This time every year in schools, churches, homes, hospitals, hospices and shopping centres the Christmas Crib stands as a tangible reminder to us that God is real and God is with us. Cribs come in all shapes and sizes and often reflect the cultural context they are in. A crib is an important part of Christmas symbolism and a doorway to deeper reflection and prayer.
The formation of the first Christmas crib is attributed to St Francis of Assisi. In 1223, just three years before his death, Francis went to visit the Friars living in the remote mountain village of Greccio. St Bonaventure tells us that in order to excite the people of Greccio to celebrate the birth of the Saviour with all solemnity, Francis brought together all the elements of the stable in Bethlehem into what would become the very first Christmas crib.
Francis used real people, straw and animals to bring the Christmas story to life for the people of Greccio. People came from far and wide to see this spectacle. The night was aglow with candlelight as hymns were sung in praise of the God who is with us.
Francis was very real and very practical.He understood that as human beings we often need to see, hear and even smell something before it can enlighten our minds and ignite our hearts. As Francis carefully brought the characters of the Christmas scene together, he also skilfully brought the people of Greccio together; uniting them in prayer and praise around a living and breathing expression of God’s connection with the human story. The crib remains a beacon of peace, hope and reconciliation and offers an opportunity for us to reflect upon the deeper message it represents.
(Capuchin Franciscans Ireland)