Traditional Nativity Scenes


#1

Has anyone else noticed the evolution of nativity scenes over the past 100 years?

I have a large nativity scene from the 1930s, and the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph are both kneeling with their hands folded in prayer. Plus, the Christ Child is clothed in a gown that comes all the way down to his ankles. I also have a much smaller nativity scene that I purchased from France based on molds from the early 1900s. The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph are both kneeling in prayer with their hands folded and the Christ Child is wearing a gown that comes down to his ankles.

But most of the modern nativity scenes don’t show either St. Joseph or the Blessed Mother in prayer. Usually, St. Joseph is shown standing, and the Blessed Mother has her hands outstretched. Plus, the Christ Child is usually naked except for a loin cloth.

It seems to me that the older nativity scenes make a clearer call to devotion (praying before the Christ Child like St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother) and show greater respect and modesty for the Christ Child, but I’d love to hear other people’s views on this.


#2

I’m a mere male and wouldn’t know much about these things, but I’m not sure how many mothers are able to kneel in prayer a few minutes after giving birth. Mary and Joseph were real people with a cold, hungry newborn to feed, not figures out of a holy card. Not even sure that kneeling with hands folded in prayer is an authentic Jewish gesture of the time, much as we’ve come to picture it that way. To me, realism is a lot more powerful as a Christmas image than a sanitized, posed picture, but that’s just a personal thing.

As far as the “modesty” issue, I think there is a fair amount of Renaissance art that shows the Christ Child *completely *exposed as a sign of his true humanity, tho’ I’d agree that’s inappropriate for a nativity set. Tastes and meaningful symbolism change.


#3

I’m a mere male and wouldn’t know much about these things, but I’m not sure how many mothers are able to kneel in prayer a few minutes after giving birth.

Who ever said that a Nativity scene was supposed to be “a few minutes after giving birth”? Considering that the shepards are present (we will not even go into the Wise Men, who did not even visit the stable), one can reasonably infer that the traditional Nativity scene depiction was most certainly NOT intended to be “a few minutes after giving birth.”


#4

OK, taking the Lukan account as literal, the shepherds would have taken how long to walk in from the fields? An hour, two maybe? This makes a difference to you? Just a guess, but a woman who just gave birth is probably contraindicated from kneeling for some period of time. Maybe there’s an OB/GYN here somewhere, but I’m guessing that the most accurate depiction of Mary would probably be lying-down, which at some point would have included nursing. And as long as we’re splitting hairs here, I said nothing about the Wise Men, so your introduction of that topic was a red herring.


#5

Note that there is no teaching on how Mary gave birth. I have seen one theory that Jesus passed from her as He did from the tomb without moving the rock and as He passed into upper room Easter evening without opening the door.


#6

OK, taking the Lukan account as literal, the shepherds would have taken how long to walk in from the fields? An hour, two maybe? This makes a difference to you?

This is bizarre. We have no idea how close or far the shepherds were. It could have taken them two days to reach the stable. It makes no difference to me, as I am not a fundamentalist, and do not always take every narrative detail literally. In any event, Luke does not provide this information.

Just a guess, but a woman who just gave birth is probably contraindicated from kneeling for some period of time. Maybe there’s an OB/GYN here somewhere, but I’m guessing that the most accurate depiction of Mary would probably be lying-down, which at some point would have included nursing.

You are right; this is just a guess. We have no idea how Our Lady’s giving birth took place. Since the Nativity did not take away her perpetual virginity, one can certainly suspect that childbirth was not a typical event, either.

And as long as we’re splitting hairs here, I said nothing about the Wise Men, so your introduction of that topic was a red herring.

I never stated that you said anything about the Wise Men; I did not even think it. (Your jumping from one statement to a sweeping conclusion is most odd.) I mentioned the Wise Men because we have no idea how long it took them to arrive, only that it must have been some time, because they visited the Holy Family in a house, rather than the stable. Similarly, we have no idea how long the shepherds took to arrive, either, only that it was while the Holy Family was still in the stable.


#7

I think more is being made of this than is asked for. I think the OP just wanted to know if any of the older style are around. I have seen one with Joseph’s eyes closed, but the clear, classic prayer posture, I haven’t seen. Of course a nativity set by its very nature is stylized. It is doubtful that Mary and Joseph spent their life in perpetual adoration, or that they knelt and stared at the babe the whole time. If it accuracy that is desired, surely Mary would be holding her infant more often than not.

Yet the view of Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men kneeling in adoration is symbolic of devotion to Emmanuel, God is with us. A beautiful and angelic Mary may or may not be what she looked like after birth, but such an image sybolizes Our Lady, the Mother of God, her purity and chastity. I know I have always had a preference for classic Catholic art.


#8

This is slightly off point, but Catholic dogma holds that the Blessed Virgin remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. Thus, there was no rupture of the membrane. Moreover, Catholics have traditionally held that the Blessed Mother was spared the pangs of childbirth (associated with original sin and Eve’s punishment in the Garden of Eden). Thus, it is completely plausible that the Blessed Mother would have been physically capable of kneeling in adoration before the Christ Child.

In addition, I might point out that the Blessed Mother in private revelations has indicated that she is very displeased by depictions of the Christ Child without any clothes on and never would have left Him exposed like that.


#9

I have a very old nativity set, probably close to 90 years old. The Blessed Virgin is kneeling but St. Joseph is standing and he is holding two apples. We are trying to figure out the significance of the apples. Any ideas?


#10

I would just be happy to see more nativity scenes.
I don’t know where you live but they are scares where I’m living.
Not even churches seem to be putting them out on their lawns like I remember as a child.
And the fact that I hardly ever hear any of the Christmas carols that name Jesus being sung. The songs I hear are about Santa.
America is getting to be a sad place for Christians.


#11

That’s a new one. Well, at first thought the significance of an apple would have something to do with the apple in Eden (Mary as the New Eve and Christ as the New Adam).:confused: This is just a guess on my part tho’.


#12

My nativity set is a 5 inch Fontanini that I add to every year. Mary is on one knee with her hands folded, kind of to the side. Joseph is standing with a staff in his hand. Jesus is wearing a white gown, that’s one shouldered and looks a bit like a toga. Also, his hair is bound with what looks like a headband. It sounds a bit odd, but it is a very pretty Nativity set and I love it.

As for the other depictions of the nativity - eh I don’t worry too much, artistic license and all.


#13

Sometimes, the “old” things… are the “best” things, huh? Our Nativity Scene is an older one, as you described. Our Lady and St. Joseph… kneeling in prayer. The Child Jesus, clad in a white knee length gown. Very reverently done.

The simple wooden stable, is hand-made by my late father. And is a treasured family heirloom. It has a stall, for the animals and a separate area for the Holy Family… with a cardboard manger. There is one, prayerful angel… who stands in back of the Holy Family, to protect them. Several shepherds and sheep. The 3 Wise Men and a camel. A donkey, cow, goat and even a little dog.

Just the other day, I read a thread by BarbaraTherese… which made me recall… how as a child… I would spend long moments before our little Nativity Scene… arranging, and rearranging the figures.

What a happy memory! :slight_smile:


#14

Re Jesus’ attire:

I wonder why they ignore Luke 2:7& 12

7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9* And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11* for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12* And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Both the manger and the swaddling cloths seem essential to His image.


#15

I haven’t been around quite that long, but it so happens in the last couple of days I have been through at least 100 Christmas cards, religious calendars, magazines, websites and other sources of nativity scenes, at least half from the great religious artists of the world, many contemporary, lots and lots of pictures of “crib sets” both home size and church size. Also our bishop has lent his very extensive collection of nativity sets for display at local museums so for the first time I have seen most of them.

Conclusion: there are all manner of depictions of poses of characters (and animals) including Mary and Joseph, and all manner of clothing style and color for the characters, and all manner of composition and arrangement and relationship between the manger and Babe, Mary and Joseph, and the other figures.

On that basis I just cannot come up with any generalization about either art or “3D” nativities of any given time period that would hold water.


#16

Ugh. I just recalled something that happened about 3 weeks ago. We received a “gift” catalogue in the mail and I was flipping through it.

I came upon a Nativity Scene… where all the figures were DOGS. Yes, literally… dogs. Bone eating, flea scratching, “bow-wowing” dogs. The Baby Jesus was portrayed as a PUPPY and I believe Our Lady was portrayed as a Golden Retriever, or some such thing. So help me… I am NOT kidding. It was SO “not right”.

I was incensed by this, and rightfully so. I wrote a letter to the Catalogue and told them… that as a Christian believer… I was deeply offended at this depiction of the Nativity… and that I would never order anything from their catalogue.

They did not reply. :shrug:


#17

You beat me to it, Joe. You are right–the gown, the loincloth, and the naked baby are all contrary to the evidence in Sacred Scripture.

Eww. Just…eww!

DaveBj


#18

I saw a nativity set in our local mall where all the figures were bears. Eww!!


#19

Don’t ever assume that you have seen the ultimate in tackiness. :smiley:


#20

Friends,
This may not be the place to post this but I need an opinion. I bought a Little People Nativity set for my son who is 2 for christmas. Is it okay to use it all year? If yes, any suggestions?
blessings,
Eli:)


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