The word nativity comes from the Latin word ‘natal’, meaning birth. Written with a capital N, it becomes the word for the birth of Jesus.

The first Nativity scene was created in Greccio, Italy, by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223, in an effort to promote the true meaning of Christmas and worship of Jesus Christ. His Nativity was a manger with hay, and two live animals, an ox and an ass. The popularity of the Nativity scene took off from there and became widespread throughout Europe within a couple centuries.

The Nativity scene has evolved to include Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, different animals, and the three wise men. Many will argue that this is not historically accurate. That animals and angels are never mentioned as being present at the actual Nativity. Scripture doesn’t actually say that Mary and Joseph travelled on a donkey. The angels appeared to the shepherds with the good news, but did they accompany them to the nativity? Scripture does not indicate how many wise men there were, or when exactly they arrived to see Jesus. In fact, a stable is not even mentioned in the gospels, only that Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. They very well could have been in the lower level of a house, where animals were brought in for the night; hence the presence of a manger.

So I think about the nativity of my granddaughter. The scene was a hospital room. Those present during, or shortly after, were the parents, aunt, grandparents, and doctors and nurses. What if the artist in me wanted to paint the scene with the addition of angels, perhaps my daughter-in-law’s grandmother who passed a year ago, maybe their dogs who have been a big part of their lives? What if I set the scene in a meadow, because they love the outdoors and nature? It would be historically inaccurate, but much more beautiful and symbolic.

What would Jesus say about the depiction of His Nativity? Our Nativities include what is important to His story. Perhaps He would not be as concerned with historical details as with our interpretation and gratitude of His humble entry into our world.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:6-7


  1. Take inventory of your Nativities and what they mean to you. As a follower of Christ, are you okay with what is being depicted on your shelves?
  2. Many sources say that the inclusion of the ox and ass in the Nativity are due to the prophecy of Isaiah: “The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isaiah 1:3. It is also said that the ox and ass represent “clean” and “unclean” animals, and further represent the Jews and Gentiles, who were mixed together upon the birth of our Savior. What animals are included in your Nativity, and what do they represent?