The Chrismas Archives

CRIB FRIENDS

Different countries tended to unconsciously specialise in a specific craft for Nativity art. The obvious crafts of the woodcarver are well known throughout the whole of Central Europe - Italy, Austria, Germany. Sculpture is also well known in these areas, as it is in Spain. But there are 'specialities'.

In 1953, worried that the popularity of the Christmas tree was taking over from the Christmas Crib (Crèche) in the family home at Christmastide, the Pope instigated an association to propagate the Crib again.

Initially a small dedicated group of European Crib Friends, the association grew and became the Universalis Feodoratio Praesepistica (The Universal Federation of the6Crib). Soon other countries joined. It was the story of the popularisation of the Crib all over again.

In the 12th-13th century Francis of Assisi introduced a living crib scene at his Christmas Mass in Grecchio. Soon people were putting crib figures in their churches, then in the fine homes. From Italy the custom spread - Austria, Germany, Spain, Poland etc etc.

Now in the 20th century the same was to happen. The first associations were the Krippenfreund of German and Austria, the Pesebristas of Spain, Amis de la Creche in France, radiating outwards all the time. Britain was late on the scene, the Anglo-Celtic Society of Nativitists were inaugurated into the Federation in 1985, and received a Papal blessing in the same year. In the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, even in Zimbabwe, people were joining this English speaking group.

Groups come and some go. Some old founder friends are no longer running the time-consuming organisations. But they continue to grow and flourish.

FOLK CRIBS. This site will link you to some of the associations which have websites. Here you can also visit some of the graphically beautiful nativity sites around the world, and maybe even find some to buy and begin your own collection of Folk Cribs of the World.

THE ANGLO-CELTIC SOCIETY OF NATIVITISTS. The Anglo-Celtic Society is still existing, but at a very low key due to time and finance factors! (Something some of our other groups in less established countries are finding a problem too!) But the Society can still answer questions and head people in the general direction of working associations, sources of Cribs etc.


HISTORY OF THE CRIB

DATE OF NATIVITY
My son and I support the 3BC (Julian Date) theory because it matches the times when we know that:

  1. Herod the Great was friends with Mark Antony, who was a trusty of Julius Caesar, and also an intimaoe friend of Caesar Augustus (who set the census)
  2. Herod's 33 year reign ended with his death following the Lunar eclipse in 1BC, Julian Date (or 0AD Gregorian Date), which means that Jesus had to be around before then.
  3. There are several theories about the date of the census. The only one which fits with the timing being the pledge of allegiance which was issued in 3BC (Julian). This was intended to be completed in time for the celebrations of August 2BC (Julian). So if we say that Jesus was born in 3BC, he would have been a child approaching two when the Innocents were slaughtered Herod then died of a horrible disease in the Spring of 1BC (Julian).

Or, one could say, as Dionysius Exiguus seems to have thought, that Jesus was born in the winter of Julian 2BC (Gregorian 1BC) and was a baby still when taken off to Egypt to escape the slaughter. For completely independent corroboration, pleas see the Nativity in the Quran page.

25th December
The precise date is more difficult to pinpoint, the calendars having changed so often since then. One argument which often comes up against winter is that shepherds would not have their sheep out then. This is cancelled out by at least two points:

  1. Even today, Christmas pilgrims report seeing the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem.
  2. Some sheep were usually kept close to the city all year, for sacrificial purposes at the temple.

The 25th was observed in the Western Church as early as the 3rd century. the 6th January in the Eastern Church. Certain theories relate to the celebrations of Saturnalia, and Winter Solstice, both during the last week of December.

Another theory is that the Church arranged the commemoration of festivals not on any special date relating to that festival but to the cardinal points of the year. Thus The Annunciation at the time of the Spring Equinox, the Birth of John the Baptist at the Summer Solstice, St. Michael at the Autumnal Equinox and Christmas at the Winter Solstice.

Yet another relates the date to that of the Dedication of the Temple, a Jewish feast of great significance held on the 25th of Khislev (November-December) easily mis-scribed.

Perhaps they are all wrong theories, and someone actually remembered the date of Jesus' birth to have been on the 25th December after all!

We are all so busy trying not to make wrong statements about historical facts, that we may be overlooking the simple facts that it is not impossible for someone in , say 100AD to have had a relative- grandparent, great-grandparent who actually remembered the event and passed on the accurate date. But both Historians and Theologians would boo me off-stage as being a romantic for saying so!

THE STAR & THE MAGI
Again, many theories . The story of the wise men following the star is probably the easiest to explain. There is nothing unusual about such men wanting to investigate an astral phenomenon.

The Magi were probably Mithraic astrologers from Persia. Certainly their headdresses as portrayed in an early image (some say mosaic some stone, it may have been both) at the place of the Nativity, saved the holy site from destruction by the Persians in 614AD, because they thought that it must be a shrine to Mithras, which portrayed their own people coming to worship. Mithraism & Zoroastriaism were much the same at that time.

THE STAR
Probably more theories and suggestions have been made for this than any other. Here are some of the most probable:

  1. The Greek term for Star is 'Aster' which can be interpreted as any heavenly phenomenon, so a Comet is a possibility. This would have to have been visible from the Far East, and appear to be travelling Westwards. Such Comet may have come around at about the right time.
  2. There is record of a Nova mentioned in Chinese and Korean records which appeared for about seventy days in the late winter/early spring of 5BC (Julian Date) or 4BC (Gregorian Date).
  3. I like the theory of the American Ernest L. Martin who suggests that a Jupiter Venus configuration alerted the Magi to the event in 3-2BC (Julian Dates); then they followed the motion of Jupiter until it halted its procession on the 25th December in 2BC, or a so far unidentified Comet which would have given a very bright light. He believes that when the Magi encountered Herod, and he asked them when they first saw the Star, that although that answer is not given in the Gospel, the Magi must have answered with the sighting of Jupiter two years previously, as Herod had infants under two slaughtered. This, I feel is very plausible. A similar theory was presented by Dr.Paul Maier. 
  4. In Julian 7BC (I personally think too early to match up to the other events) there was a configuration of Jupiter and Saturn in December. But by February 6BC (Julian Date) Mars had joined it. Astrologically, the sign of Jupiter meeting Saturn in Pisces - Fishes would have indicated to the Stargazers that a very important Ruler was to be born. Jupiter represented the greatest of the gods.

Bearing in mind again that one did not just hop on a plane in those days, it could easily have taken up to two years in fact for these wise men to complete their journey and finally end up at the stable in Bethlehem.

PLACE OF NATIVITY
How do we know that the Holy site is the site?

There was enough evidence from the time from people who remembered the events. These were documented early.

Origen, the Christian Theologian 185-254AD wrote that he saw 'the Grotto and in it the manger where He (Jesus) was swaddled'.

It is thought that the manger was made from rough hewn stone. Several of these stone feeding troughs have been excavated in contemporary stables in Bethlehem. Though later belief had it as a wooden manger made from five or six planks of wood.

The place has been saved from destruction several times. The first was because Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD in an attempt to destroy the new Christian tradition, had a temple to Adonis built there. But he achieved the opposite, because thus was the place preserved and its position and identity recorded!

Early 1st C.Christians were remembering the Nativity, proof of which is to be seen in the Catacombs where they met secretly. The first full account of a Christmas Service at the Grotto was written in the 4th century by a nun called Aetheria. She refers to the hangings of silk, and the gold and jewels, the many lamps and candelabra, the hours of chanting of the psalms, and the Sacrament of the Mass.


CYCLE OF THE NATIVITY STORY

For many of us Christmas means Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the events thereon.

However there are a great number of events and stories which surround the Nativity of Christ. Some are accepted as the Gospel truths, others are a little dubious in the sense that they may have been subjected to later embellishments in the course of storytelling and translating; or simply that there were only fragments (tiny scraps of writings) which did not give a full enough text - such as the worthy Gospel of St Peter himself - to make them worth keeping in the New Testament.

There were two main gospels which contained accounts of the Nativity.These were called the 'Infant Narratives'. The oldest is from the protoevangelium of St James. There is some basis for truth, and in fact the Eastern Christian Church accepts many of these stories as part of the old liturgy of the Nativity. But Western Christians have put them in the 'appocryphal gospels' (not to be confused with the Apocalypse!) ie, stories which might have a layer of legendary 'jam' between the sponge truths!)

Such stories enjoyed popularity right up the Norman invasion of Britain, which happened some time after the rift between the East and West Christians. Until The Norman invasion, Christian imagery tended to be very Byzantine in style, and the stories in the Nativity Cycle were often painted onto church walls as a visual aid to largely illiterate congregation. The Normans, with the blessing of Rome, set about destroying these images, because they were not Western, and a new order was evolved. However, as they covered all the old picture stories up with Limewash, they were all preserved rather than destroyed, so that today many restored churches in England have this wonderful old witness to the early stories of Christ's nativity for all to see!

They are charmingly innocent stories which add interest to the telling of the gospel stories of the events surrounding the Birth of Jesus, and are much enjoyed by children. And, for those who prefer to read the standard Gospels stories, the references are listed below each part of the Cycle.

The 'cycle of events' is as follows:

The Annunciation; Joseph's Dream; The Visitation; The Census; The Birth; The Angels appear to the Shepherds & The adoration of the Shepherds; The Presentation in the Temple; The Kings arrive at Herod's Court; The Adoration of the Kings; Joseph's Dream & The Flight into Egypt. Herod's Revenge and the Massacre of the Innocents.

THE ANNUNCIATION
Luke chapter 1. 26-38

Mary was a young girl who had been from childhood dedicated to the Temple. When she was Twelve, it was time for her to leave the Temple, and the head priest prayed for some sort of divine assistance in knowing what to do with her. An Angel came to him and told him to gather all the good men who were widowers in the town, and tell them to assemble in the temple, and bring with them a stick each. The angel said that God would decided which of these good men should be husband and protector of Mary.

Amongst these men was one carpenter called Joseph. The high priest gathered all the sticks and went to pray. Then he gave the sticks back to the men. When he handed Joseph's stick back, a dove came and landed on it. This was taken to be the sign that Joseph was to care for Mary.

So she went to Joseph's house. One day she was fetching water from the well, when she heard a voice saying "Hail, thou that art highly favoured; the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women"

Going back into her house, she saw an angel who told her that God wanted her to become the mother of His Son on earth. "How can I when I am not wed and am still a Virgin" she asked. "The power of the Lord shall overshadow thee, and this holy child that shall be born of the shall be called the Son of the Highest"

And Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word".

THE VISITATION
Luke chapter 1 39-56

Mary's cousin was an elderly women, who had gone through all her married life without having any children. She was said to be barren. Mary heard from the angel that her cousin too was to have a child, to show the might of God's word. So Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was already six months pregnant. Elizabeth was to bear a son who would become John the Baptist, and who would baptise his cousin Jesus.

JOSEPH'S FIRST DREAM
Matthew chapter 1 18-25

Joseph was worried what people would think of him. He had been given charge of a temple virgin to care for, and here she was, with child, and they not even married yet, and he an old man with grown sons of his own. Should he hide Mary away until the baby was born? he did not know.

Then , while he slept, an angel appeared to him, and told him not to be worried or ashamed, because Mary was carrying a child of the Holy Spirit. "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins"

And Joseph, remembering the old prophesies which foretold of such an event, accepted the angels word, and looked after Mary.

THE CENSUS
Luke chapter 2 1-5

Just before Mary was due to have her baby, a decree came from Rome, saying that they were going to count everybody and keep a record of the population. This meant that everyone had to travel back to the place where they were born to register from their hometown.

So Joseph took Mary, and they traveled on foot and on donkey. But when they arrived at Bethlehem it was teeming with people! It was also the Sabbath Day, and not easy to find anywhere to stay. Mary was tired as any woman in her condition would be. Every Inn they went to was already full. there was certainly no privacy for a woman who might go into labour at any time.

THE NATIVITY
Luke chapter 2 6-7

Finally Joseph found an animal shelter, which was warm, dry, and above all, private. he went to find a midwife who could help Mary deliver her firstborn, which in those times was always a dangerous event. The women who came to assist were a little dubious. Theirs was a strict religion, and Mary's story sounded strange to them. But as soon as the Holy Babe was born, they fell to their knees and gave praises to God for the wonder they had seen.

Mary wrapped his child in the customary swaddling bands, and he was kept warm by the breath of the stable animals which were also sheltered there. We can only imagine the way it must have felt to be present there. In the middle of this dark cold night, surrounded by dumb creatures, who were the only witnesses to the greatest miracle of all time.

THE ANGELS APPEAR TO THE SHEPHERDS
Luke chapter 2 8-20

There were shepherds in the nearby fields looking after their sheep. There were many wolves around, so a watch was usually kept. Angels filled the sky, and their voices rose in the first Christmas hymn, "Glory to God in the Highest!"

The shepherds left their flocks to see what was happening in the shelter. And there they found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. The next day they hurried around the town telling everyone they met of the wonderful sight of angels, and the Child born to a Virgin.

THE PRESENTATION
Luke chapter 2 21-34

It was customary in Jewish law, for the parents to take a boy child on its eighth day, to the temple to be circumcised, and named. Mary took with her the customary offering of two doves.

Waiting at the Temple doors was an old holy man called Simeon. Simeon was waiting patently for the event foretold in the old Scriptures, that a Son would be born of a Virgin, who would be the comfort of Israel, and lead the people out of darkness. He had waited so long, and could not die peacefully until this event was revealed to him.

When Mary and Joseph entered the Temple with Jesus, he knew this was the time, and he went to them, and took the holy child in his arms and offered Him up before God, saying, " Now, thou dost dismiss they servant in peace, O Lord, according to thy word, For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples".

THE MAGI AT KING HEROD'S COURT
Matthew chapter 2 1-8

Magi, priests from Persia, had seen the event foretold by a great star in the sky. They too knew of the old prophesies, and knew that a great event had taken place. So they followed the star for many weeks before they arrived at last a the court of the local King, Herod. Now Herod was a weak and sick man. and he was an indulgent man. He welcomed these great sages, as all interesting visitors were welcomed in those days. News was scarce, and travelers provided much entertainment with their stories.

"Where is he that is born king of the Jews" the magi asked, "For we have seen his star in the East and have come to adore him".

This worried herod. Was there someone else who was going to take his place, he thought jealously. And he gathered together his own stargazers and wisemen, and asked them what this was all about. They confirmed the prophesies, and the appearance of a great phenomenon in the sky. They told him that a child had been born in Bethlehem of Judea.

So he questioned the magi again, before they left his palace, and asked them how they knew where to come, how did they know a king was born.

"We saw a very great star shining amongst those stars, and dimming them so that they showed not: and thereby we knew that a king had been born unto Israel, and we came to worship him."

Herod asked them to go and find this king, and when they had found him, to come back, and tell him, so that he too could go and worship at his cradle.

THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI
Matthew chapter 2 9-12

They went on, and found that the star led them to the place where Jesus lay. Entering they fell down and adored the baby king, and offered him their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, to represent riches in honour of a king; incense to anoint him king, and Myrrh to represent the bitterness of life.

That night an angel appeared to them in their sleep warning then that Herod's intentions were not to worship the baby king but to kill him, so they went back to their own country by a different route.

JOSEPHS SECOND DREAM & the Flight into Egypt
Matthew chapter 2 a 13-15

Shortly after the magi left to go home, Joseph had his second dream visitation. Thge angel this time told him of Herod's wicked plans, "Arise", he said, "Take the child and his mother and fly into Egypt, and stay there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him".

So Joseph took his wife Mary and her son Jesus, and they left hurriedly to escape. They stayed in Egypt until after Herod's death. Yet fulfulling another old testement prophesy that 'Out of Egypt have I called my Son'.

HERODS REVENGE (The Massacre of the Innocents)
Matthew chapter 2 16-23

Herod waited in vain for the magi to return to him with news of the whereabouts of the new king. Eventually he realised that they were not coming back. This made him very angry. He ordered his soldiers to go into Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, and kill every male child under two. His actions fulfilled the words of Jeremiah the prophet who said "A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children and would not be comforted, because they are not".

Thus passed the infancy of Jesus.

NB: Whereas I have taken the reliable stories from the Protoevangelium of James to embellish the accounts of Matthew and Luke, the full Apocrypha also contains much which is best left to those established scholars of the bible who have the additional knowledge to understand which is good and which is not!

CRIB FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD

Visit the Italian Creches web site:

Bethlehem, Birthplace of Jesus with music.

The Annual CHRISTMAS CRECHE (NATIVITY) EXHIBIT, Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.