Nativity Scene - Components - Static Nativity Scenes

Static Nativity Scenes

A static nativity scene may be erected indoors or outdoors during the Christmas season, and is composed of figurines depicting the infant Jesus resting in a manger, Mary, and Joseph. Other figures in the scene may include angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures may be made of any material, and arranged in a stable or grotto. The Magi may also appear, and are sometimes not placed in the scene until the week following Christmas to account for their travel time to Bethlehem. While most home nativity scenes are packed away at Christmas or shortly thereafter, nativity scenes in churches usually remain on display until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

The nativity scene may not accurately reflect gospel events. With no basis in the gospels, for example, the shepherds, the Magi, and the ox and ass may be displayed together at the manger. Some traditions bring other scriptural characters to the nativity scene such as Adam and Eve and the serpent, Noah and his animals, the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve prophets and the twelve apostles. Mundane activities such as Mary washing diapers in the River Jordan, or a dove descending on the newborn infant may be depicted. The art form can be traced back to eighteenth-century Naples, Italy. Families competed with each other to produce the most elegant and elaborate scenes. These scenes expanded far beyond the manger to include village backdrops, merchants, artisans, soldiers, even local notables.

Regional variants on the standard nativity scene are many. The putz of Pennsylvania Dutch Americans evolved into elaborate decorative Christmas villages in the twentieth century. In Colombia, the pesebre may feature a town and its surrounding countryside with shepherds and animals. Mary and Joseph are often depicted as rural Boyacá people with Mary clad in a countrywoman's shawl and fedora hat, and Joseph garbed in a poncho. The infant Jesus is depicted as European with Italianate features. Visitors bringing gifts to the Christ child are depicted as Colombian natives. After World War I, large, lighted manger scenes in churches and public buildings grew in popularity, and, by the 1950s, many companies were selling lawn ornaments of non-fading, long-lasting, weather resistant materials telling the nativity story.

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