The word Nativity comes from the Latin word Nativus meaning born. We celebrate Christmas or don’t celebrate Christmas in many ways. The religious aspect of Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
The first Nativity scene came in 1223 created by St. Francis of Assisi. The same saint who showed compassion and love for animals, perhaps that is why animals are displayed in the Nativity.
In recent years, Nativity scenes have been banned from public places. Scholars and researchers have negated simple facts of the birth of Christ. Was there really the presence of the Three Wise Men, was the Christmas star truly a star or a comet or a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter? Was December 25th really Jesus’ birthday because astrologers pinpoint a June 17 date? Was there really a stable or was it a cave? Human nature can do with these research facts what they like.
The typical Nativity scene is still patterned after the 13th century image established by St. Francis of Assisi. The main characters are Mary, Joseph, Jesus, angels, shepherds, wise men and of course the animals. Mary and Joseph are positioned close to the baby, Mary being the closest. The angels are in flight usually hovering above the structure. The shepherds and the wise men form a circle around the family representing an eternal circle. The wise men and shepherds represent all people, “the influential and the lowly”.
With some Nativity scenes, the wise men don’t make their appearance until later in January or the Epiphany.
Being born in a stable, there must be animals. Nativity scene animals over the years included cows, oxen, camels, sheep, a symbol of purity and in a few cases an elephant. A Christmas elephant?
Whatever the set-up, the characters, the location, the Nativity scene represents the reason for the season.