Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nativity Sets (Creche) in the 1800s

By Miralee Ferrell

The first record of a nativity scene was 800 years ago by St. Francis of Assisi, out of concern that the real meaning of Christmas might be lost. His wasn't a wood or ceramic set, as many are today, but a living representation of the nativity, set ii a cave, using people and animals. It came with the Pope's blessing and was so popular that it spread throughout Christendom. Within 100 years, churches throughout Italy were expected to do the same. It wasn't long after that elaborate statues took their place, as well as the living nativities that continued for some time and that we still see in churches today.
A living nativity in Bascara

In my newest release, The Nativity Bride (a novella), a man carves an intricate nativity set of wood, but they've been made from just about everything that can be shaped, including ivory at one time. The use of nativity sets in the home became popular in the 19th Century, as it had spread from mostly Catholic churches and homes to the common person, spreading even to public lands and buildings.
An 1800s Nativity in wood as depicted at

I found one interesting fact in the Wikipedia, as follows: A tradition in England, involved baking a mince pie in the shape of a manger to hold the Christ child until dinnertime when the pie was eaten. When the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations in the 17th century, they also passed specific legislation to outlaw such pies, calling them "Idolaterie in crust".

I was fascinated by some of the pictures I found of elaborate nativities over the years. This is one that really caught my attention. We certainly don't see things like this often!

A traditional Neapolitan Nativity scene of the 18th century, now on permanent display at the Roman church of Saints Cosmas & Damian  

When our children were young, I made a production of bringing out the nativity set prior to Christmas and setting it up. Our daughter and son would play the parts as we put the pieces in place, or tell the story, bringing it more to life for them and planting the importance of the season in their hearts.
A typical nativity you might see today
Do you have a family tradition that involve a nativity set, or do you display one in your home?

Miralee Ferrell is a multi-published author of 12 books, both contemporary and historical, with a series of middle-grade girls' horse novels releasing in 2015. Two current releases, Dreaming on Daisies and The Nativity Bride, are part of a historical romance series.

The Nativity Bride--an ebook on all major ebook retailers, at .99 or under!

Deborah Summers has waited five years and prayed for Curt Warren to return to Goldendale, Washington, passing up another marriage proposal by believing in her first love. When tragedy finally brings him home, will a rift with his father drive him away again?


  1. Gwynly and I have Nativity set that features a standing Joseph and a seated Mary, who is holding Baby Jesus. The two pieces were hand carved. We bought them directly from the woodcarver himself on a visit to Oberammergau, the Germany were the Passion Play takes place. I love putting these special pieces out each year.

    1. That would be German city. My fingers couldn't keep up with my thoughts. :-)

  2. We made one from either dough or gingerbread or pretzels each year. The tradition was it had to be home made, so one year it was cardboard and sticks and random pieces of scrap cloth. Great memories!

  3. Thanks for a delightful and interesting post. I've collected a number of nativities over the years and display them every Christmas. Two I keep out all year long because they're so pretty. One is a Jim Shore nativity and the other is a carving of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus out of a block of wood. I also have one from Israel made of olive wood, and another hand-carved one from Germany. Probably a total of 20 or so including the musical snow globe ones. My children are always on the look-out for unusual ones to give me every Christmas. I'm going to order your book, Miralee since I love everything I've read of yours.