Who is at the manger? Nativity sets around the world show each culture’s take on the Christmas story
For many Christians around the world, celebrating the Nativity, or the birth of Jesus Christ, is the most important part of the Christmas season.
Among the most common Christmas traditions are small sets of figures depicting Joseph, Mary and Jesus that are displayed in individual homes, and live reenactments of the manger scene in communities and churches. While Nativity sets focus on the holy family, they can also include an angel, the three wise men bringing gifts, shepherds or some barnyard animals.
Around the world, it is common to see particular cultural and religious traditions incorporated through the materials used, the types of gifts presented to Jesus, or the people and animals present at the manger.
The Marian Library at the University of Dayton has over 3,600 Nativity sets, also known as “crèches,” the French word for cribs. These Nativities are used to promote the study of culture and religion. Since one of us is a curator for this collection and the other is a religious studies scholar, we often notice how Nativities can be used to both depict the birth of Jesus and convey unique cultural beliefs.