Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Family Nativity blessing

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Dec. 16, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Whether it is called a manger scene, crib, Nativity set, or crèche, this is one of Advent and Christmas’s most beloved traditions. I highly recommend getting unbreakable Mary, Joseph and Jesus figures so that your children can play with them. Manipulating the characters and acting out the Nativity story was a favorite activity for my children during Advent.

In the early years when we had only a few figurines, miniature Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse filled in for the shepherds and the Wise Men looked suspiciously like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Initially, I told the story as the children played, but soon they took over the speaking parts themselves. The story may have varied time to time from the Gospel accounts, but it become real to the children. So much so, in fact, that I remember once my youngest, who was about three, burst into tears when he was told there was no room at the inn.

The Nativity scene has been portrayed in art down through the ages, but its popularity as a Christmas tradition began in Italy in 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi reenacted what many believe was the first living Nativity scene at the monastery at Greccio. Villagers who came to watch that Christmas Eve were touched at the sight of a babe in a manger with an ox and donkey standing by.

Churches in Italy began to erect Nativity scenes each Christmas, and rich, prominent families soon fashioned their own, sometimes commissioning well-known sculptors to create the figures. The custom soon spread to middle class and poor families as well, through Europe and then the world.

In 1953, apparently worried the popularity of the Christmas tree would outshine the manger scene, a small dedicated group called the European Crib Friends formed with the blessing of pope to propagate the tradition.

A Nativity scene is a good way to focus your family on the real meaning of Christmas. There are many traditions surrounding the crèche, and you can also start your own. Here are a few ideas:

• Allow children to play-act the story of Jesus birth: As mentioned above, this can provide hours of creative fun, and helps children to learn the Christmas story and relate to it.
• Say evening prayer before the manger: The novelty of the crib makes prayer time extra special and children enjoy praying to the Baby Jesus.
• Create a soft bed for Jesus: Begin with an empty manger and a supply of straw or shredded paper. Allow the children to add a single piece of bedding to the manger whenever they do a kind deed. Suggest they do their kindness in secret.
• Practice waiting: Consider starting with only the figures of Mary and Joseph placed at some distance from the manger. Move them a bit nearer each day of Advent, reflecting on their journey to Bethlehem. Add the remaining figures as the Christmas season progresses with the Wise men finally arriving on Epiphany, Jan. 6.

You may bless your Nativity scene when you first set it up, on Christmas Eve or anytime in-between.

Blessing of the Manger Scene

Leader: We begin in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
All: Amen.
Leader: God, open our hearts to your Word as we gather to bless our manger scene, a reminder that you sent your son Jesus as our Savior.
Reader: (reads aloud a chosen Scripture passage. Suggested Scriptures: Psalm 130-5-8 (“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…”) Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) Luke 2:1-7 (Jesus birth) Mark 13:33-37 (Jesus said, ‘stay awake’).)
Leader: Let us raise our hands in blessing over this remembrance of Jesus’ humble birth. God, bless our Nativity scene. May it remind us of your love for us, and inspire us be more like Jesus.
All: Amen.

End with song. Perhaps “Stay Awake,” by Christopher Walker, which is a simple, short song with an easy melody and accompanied by hand-clapping. It’s great for children.

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her new children’s novel, Fire in the Hole!, is available from Clarion Books. Contact her at

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