Each December, in villages and churches the length and breadth of France, families follow the custom of visiting the Nativity Crib where Jesus of Nazareth was born.
‘Sur le chemin des Crèches’, my neighbours take the path that leads them from one village church to another, where they find Jesus lying in his manger. They marvel at the Nativity scene, in forms ancient and modern, life size and miniature, the twinkling lights and warm wine welcomes. At the end of the path is Castelmoron d’Albret, and it is here that house windows display the village collection of ‘Crèches’ donated from across France and the world.
A little history
It was in his Gospel that St. Luke described how and where the birth of Jesus of Nazareth took place. Yet while he expressed the joyfulness of this birth, it was not celebrated in the early centuries of Christianity. It was six centuries later that the first Mass took place during the night of December 25th, in St. Marie of Rome. Frances of Assisi created the first living Crèche in Italy for the Christmas of 1223 in which St.Lukes story was enacted. The Holy family, witnesses and animals were portrayed by the villagers and their animals. The living Crèche gave birth to a tradition that continues today, but the Nativity story is more usually presented in model form using diverse materials such as wood, metal, plaster ect, and fabricated by craftsmen and artists. The most ancient known was made by the Jesuits of Prague in 1562.
During the French revolution the Crèche was forbidden in Churches and public spaces, so Catholic Christians placed a miniature Crèche in their homes. In Provence particularly, the first Crèches were inspired by the landscape, colours and artisans of their region. ‘Santons’ or ‘Little Saints’ took the form of local characters such as the baker, teacher, lavender grower, ect.
Today, Christian Catholics across the world still make a place for their family Crèche, so that they can remember the humble birth of baby Jesus, son of God, and his message of love and peace.
Publicly, a part of the french Christmas festivities involve the creation of wonderful and diverse styles of Crèches, set in miniature towns and landscapes, with running brooks and Santons of all lifestyles, and taking centre stage Jesus lying in a manger.
Peace and Joy To All
Referenced ‘Portail de la litergie Catholic’ website.