Spiritual Practices

Advent Traditions: Nativity

Again, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation inviting us to pause and reflect, to dust off our souls, clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives, and to de-clutter our schedules and lives to welcome the divine house guest into our hearts, souls, homes, and entire creation in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

This evening, I will be sharing about the Nativity of Jesus and how it can be utilized during Advent and Christmas.

The Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus is often shortened to ‘the Nativity’, although it is simply birth. I will continue with the short-hand for convivence.

The Nativity is the depiction of Jesus’ birth, although often envisioned as 3-dimensional figures. It may include a dramatic performance (or Living Nativity), painting on canvas, or otherwise. 

The Nativity varies in production, but always includes the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. It will often include an angel, shepherds, and perhaps a donkey and sheep. It may include the Magi (or Wise Men), camels, and additional barn animals such as cattle.

History of the Nativity
The original Nativity is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1223. Saint Francis was inspired after a visit to the Holy Land, including Jesus’ traditional birthplace. He developed a dramatic production, or a Living Nativity, in central Italy with the blessing of the Pope. These Living Nativities became widely popular throughout Europe.  

Saint Francis desired to shift the cultural focus and cultivate the worship of the Christ Child at Christmas instead of secular materialism.

Hmm, I guess Christmas materialism has been a significant concern for FAR longer than I imagined.

Nativity Traditions
There are a number of Advent traditions with the Nativity, which varies depending on denomination, culture and nation, as well as family practice.

  • One tradition is a Nativity Blessing, which seeks to re-orient us to the Christmas story and speaks a word of blessing for all who set their eyes upon it. In my professional ministry, I have begun to invite the entire congregation (especially young youth) to Bless the Nativity with me during the Christmas Eve worship service.

The majority of traditions, however, engage a significant debate about whether the Holy Family, but especially the baby Jesus, is added to the manger scene prior to Christmas or not. These traditions often emphasis the ‘journey’, but as you may have noticed not all Nativities allow for said traditions.

  • One such tradition is to place Mary and Joseph, plus the other persons and animals, within the home but not the manger. Then, you can relocate these each day until their arrival to the manger on Christmas Eve. On that night, the Holy Family (including the baby Jesus) is placed in the manager as well as their donkey, the angel, shepherds and sheep, and additional barn animals.
  • Another such tradition is to have the empty manger, but with each day add a piece of straw to prepare the manager and your heart for the Christ Child to be born. On Christmas Eve, again, the Holy Family, their donkey, the angel, shepherds, sheep, and additional barn animals may be added to the scene.

However, you may have noted that I did not include the Magi (Wise Men) and their camels. The Magi were not present at the Nativity. They arrived potentially two years later. We celebrate their arrival at Epiphany, which concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas on January 6. Thus, you can continue to relocate the Magi and their camels until their arrival at Epiphany.

I invite you, as able, to incorporate the Nativity of Jesus into your Advent and Christmas.

Allow the Nativity to incite your pondering of the journey to the Christ Child, whether as Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, or the Magi (Wise Men).

Allow your preparation of the Nativity to be a preparation of your own heart and home for the Christ Child to be born, yet again, in hope, peace, joy, and love.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally developed and published digitally for 11 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).


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