History of the Christmas Creche: the Manger scene


One of the most beautiful Christmas traditions is setting up a creche during the Advent season. A creche is a model of the scene at the manger on the first Christmas in the stable at Bethlehem. A creche can be a small model, set up in the home or a large scene set up at a church or lawn.

The word creche is from the French word for manger. The French word comes from the Italian word Greccio. Greccio was the town where the first manger scene was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, some say as an alternative for pilgrims wanting to go to Bethlehem, which was then occupied by the Turks. Before that time, many churches had built nativity scenes, but these early mangers were covered with gold, silver, and jewels. They were much fancier than the original manger in which the Christ child was laid. I was in Assisi last year. The house Francis was born in is now a large church (see photo at right.)

St. Francis wanted people to remember that Jesus was born in a humble stable. He asked a farmer friend of his to help by bringing an ox, a donkey, a manger and some straw to a nearby cave. On Christmas Eve, St. Francis and the people of Greccio met in this cave. By candlelight, they acted out the story of Jesus’ birth.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


  1. Cynthia Marie on December 5, 2011 at 5:02 am


  2. mm on December 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    u rock

  3. Tom on December 27, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Some additional info on the evolution of the depictions on the nativity: http://friendsofthecreche.org/historyCreche.html

  4. Ray on December 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    I’ve seen where the Infant was not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve and many that place the Infant in the manger as soon as it’s put up. Which is correct?

    • Bill Petro on December 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm


      It could be a phenomenon of the so called “Baby Jesus” theft where nativity figurines are sometimes stolen from outdoor public and private displays during the Christmas season. The thefts are usually pranks with figurines occasionally recovered within a few hours or days of their disappearances. This type of theft is on the rise in the United States, though federal law enforcement officials do not track such theft. Indeed, some communities protect outdoor nativity scenes with surveillance cameras or GPS devices concealed within the figurines.


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