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Antique Nativity Sets Add Charm

Are you a collector of antique nativity sets? Or, maybe you want a seasonal display for your home, to remind people of the reason for the season. Either way, there is rich history behind nativity figures, and they are a beautiful addition to any home. Nativity sets, called creches, are a central part of many families Christmas and Advent season. Although nativity sets have been around for centuries, many people have no idea how they were created, or why.


Early Christians painted scenes of the birth of Christ in catacombs, and they became an important part of life, with the history passed down from generation to generation. During the time St. Francis of Assissi, Catholics began to display mangers in front of the churches. The early nativity mangers were made of gold, and bejeweled, to represent the treasure they held. However, St. Francis of Assissi felt that people were forgetting the more humble birth of Jesus. You will still find many antique nativity sets that are crafted out of gold and silver.


The traditional antique nativity sets often include two animals: a donkey and an ox, as these were the animals that St. Francis first used in his creche. As time went by, nativity scenes were no longer made of gold and jewels, but made more realistic-looking out of resin or wood to depict a more accurate stable scene. What many people aren't aware of, is that the wise men and the shepherds aren't at the nativity scene together. It's common for people to use all nativity figures in the scene, but this isn't historically accurate. Baby Jesus should not be in the manger until Christmas Day, and the shepherds show up the day after that. The wise men appear in early January, and the creche is supposed to stay up until February 2nd, the feast day of the Presentation of the Lord.


Antique nativity sets range from about $50 to hundreds of dollars for a single figure, depending on the age of the nativity set, the condition it's in and the materials used. They are popular as a Christmas decoration: smaller sets can be arranged under the tree or on a table, while larger ones can be lighted and displayed on the front yard. However, since antique nativity sets are often more delicate and more expensive than store-bought sets, many people choose to keep them indoors so they aren't exposed to the elements. These antique sets are usually from Europe, especially Germany, and commonly date back to the 1920's or 1930's, or even earlier.


It's now becoming more common for a variety of cultures and religions to add the nativity scene to decorations. It used to be solely a Catholic tradition, and many protestants reviled images of Jesus. Nowadays, antique nativity sets are used to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and to create a festive decoration for the Christmas season. You will find a wide range of antique nativity set styles from dealers and online, from the Polish Krakow nativity scenes made of paper, cardboard and fake jewels, to delicate China and porcelain sets.


This article was published on Sunday 11 October, 2009.

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