Nativity Scene of Bethlehem
A long time before decorating Christmas trees, Nativity Scenes have been built in Christian homes. St. Francis of Assisi has introduced this custom. He was a great poet and a great perennial child. He observed the world with wondering eyes and it was easy for him to see a handful of miracles. He loved everything the Lord has ever created and was happy because of these gifts. In life he loved the pure fact of being a part of Creation and he thought himself to be the same as the rain and the sun the lark and the butterfly. He was a saint and he didn't know it. He was forever a child.
When he pondered about the birth of Jesus, he suddenly yearned to witness this breath taking event, when Mary held the Christ-Child in her arms for the first time - the Lord's Son and the Savior. He worked with childlike enthusiasm. He built an opened stable complete with a manger he borrowed a donkey and an ox to stand by the manger, he hired two volunteers to play St. Mary and St. Joseph. He finished everything as he saw it in his imagination -- sheep and straw; everything living -- only with the Child he had difficulties. To his surprise, ;nobody was willing to lend him a living child. He had to be satisfied with a rag doll.
But there was nothing that would stop his flight of childlike imagination. In his mind the Nativity Scene stood there very much authentic, the night was real, the deepest and the longest, the most mysterious one. And then Francis ran out with the shepherds and hurried to the stables to see the great mystery of love and life: an infant in mother's lap. He dreamed he was part of this scene and a flood of gratitude was flowing from his grateful heart.
Francis sang one of his supreme hymns; with tears in his eyes he sang about the riches hidden behind the veil of poverty, apparent only to those attentive and grateful, to those who did not take everything for granted.
It was the Franciscans in the 13th Century, who started to spread the custom of building Nativity Scenes, as a Christmas celebration, throughout the Christian world.
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