Memories of decorating the manger scene as young children are now reminders of the importance of preparing for Christ’s birth, say some local faithful.
Father Luis Granados, D.C.J.M., parochial vicar at St. Mary Church in Littleton, remembers singing Advent songs, lighting candles and decorating a Nativity Scene as a young boy with his seven siblings and parents in Madrid.
“The house was completely decorated,” he shared about his family home. “In Spain, all the houses had a Nativity Scene with water, sand and rocks. The one with a Joseph, Mary and animals was in the dining room, in the most important place. This is where we put the crib. The crib was empty because Jesus was not born.”
His mother would hide the baby Jesus figurine until Christmas. Before then, he and his siblings would add straw to the Nativity Scene and crib throughout the liturgical season of Advent.
“The idea was we wanted to prepare the crib for baby Jesus so he could be warm and not on the stone that was cold and hard,” he explained. “During the day we would make more sacrifices of charity, patience and not complaining. Then we would be able to take a little piece of straw and put it in the crib.”
Moving the straw became symbolic for preparing their hearts for Christmas.
“The idea is the straw is our heart being prepared to welcome Jesus. We are preparing the home and we are preparing our hearts to receive him,” Father Granados said. “They are images I keep in my heart. When Advent comes, I remember this.”
Catholic families adopted the practice of setting a Nativity Scene in the home after St. Francis of Assisi first started the tradition in the 13th century. The scene spread throughout Italy and later into Europe and the Americas. Christians today use the mangers as a reminder of the reason for celebrating Christmas, the moment when Christ became man to enter the world and save sinners.
Daniel Silva, a 20-year-old seminarian from Chile, continues his family’s tradition of decorating a manager at Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary.
“It’s a gift of God to make the representation of the important event that happened in our history,” he said.
The Nativity Scene he and fellow seminarians Manuel Alarcon, 20, Hernaldo Arrieta Rojas, 21, are creating is more than the manger scene. They use figurines, sand, materials for landscaping, clothes and structure to depict Biblical stories surrounding the Nativity.
One area shows an angel declaring to shepherds the child’s birth. Another shows the wise men traveling to adore the Christ child, Herod and his command to kill boys, and Joseph and Mary fleeing into Egypt.
“It’s a spiritual help for me because I can come out of myself and give my talent for evangelization,” Alarcon said. “And it’s a way of catechizing children.”
He said children will view the Nativity Scene and ask questions, giving him a chance to share the Christmas story with them.
As a child, his own family in Chile did not decorate their home with a Christmas tree. Instead they spent time decorating a Nativity Scene, which he said is a reminder of Christ’s humble act of becoming a little child.
“In the end, it’s beautiful,” he said.
Midnight Mass Livestream
The Office of Communications will broadcast the midnight Mass with Archbishop Samuel Aquila starting 11:45 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, from the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Visit www.archden.org/livesream to watch the Mass online.