Nativity scenes

Nativity scene, messrs, Steiner (Steha), Neustadt bei Coburg, composition ”Steha“, c. 1960
Nativity scene, messrs, Steiner (Steha), Neustadt bei Coburg, composition ”Steha“, c. 1960

The first Christmas festivities were celebrated in the birth town of Christ, Bethlehem, and later on in Santa Maria Maggiore, a church in Rome. A reproduction of the nativity scene had become the emotional center of the festivity; a replica in the manger served as the symbol of the Infant Jesus.

Until the period of Enlightenment, nativity scenes in Roman Catholic churches had served to highlight Christmas events. Apparently, the visual presentation of the scenes follows medieval Miracle Plays; i.e. the content of liturgical dramas is in accordance to the Gospel of Luke.

In Germany, the infant Jesus was lain in a cradle that the parishioner moved during the church service. This was a custom until the 16th Century. It is also told that parishioners cheerfully danced around the replica.

During the 18th Century, Putz, or nativity scenes, became the focal point of Christmas decoration in Roman Catholic houses. There are also Protestant centers, for instance in Thuringia and Saxony, which produce Putz scenes. Around the middle of the 19th Century, the presence of Protestant nativity scenes depended on regional traditions.

Among the most popular nativity scenes are those made of paper because they require little room to set up and to store during the rest of the year.