Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things on Thursday: The Nativity

Sadly, in the year Christ was born, cameras and camcorders hadn't been invented, so we can only imagine what the Nativity was like. Going to modern-day Bethlehem doesn't help us get back to the inn and stable, either.

Consequently, we all have different images in our head of the event, based on what we learn in Sunday school, popular culture, and books. If you Google nativity images, an incredible variety of interpretations in a wide range of media pops up.

Stained glass provides a particularly appropriate medium for portraying the birth of Light in the world.

Historical accuracy rarely figures in images of the Nativity. We adapt the story to our times, our needs, our imaginations, our culture, as in this beautiful African Nativity.


Cute, cartoony representations speak to the child in us.

Renaissance portrayals of the Nativity often include anachronistic figures (wealthy patrons who commissioned the art piece often appear as wise men, the artists themselves might make a cameo as a shepherd, clothing is more suited to 16th-century royal courts than first-century Bethlehem, etc.) and symbolic or inaccurate images (a manger that looks like an empty tomb, as above).

Figurines are mass-produced or hand-crafted so families can have their own Nativity scenes over fireplaces, under trees, on tables in their homes.

Films depict the Nativity and play out the story for us in a medium we definitely understand. This image, from The Nativity Story, shows how human the event was.

Modern, clean depictions strip the event down to its barest elements. (This photo made 9-year-old Jack exclaim with joy, "That's baby Jesus!")

What is your favorite version of the Nativity scene? What do you value most in a Nativity depiction? 


  1. The version on my mantle right now is traditional. Ceramic, hand-painted with lots of gold on the wise men and very simple, mute colours on the others. All the standard characters are there. But Baby Jesus doesn't make an appearance until Christmas Eve (he's hidden away until then). I must say, your last photo with the metal and simple, yet it made me stop for a moment, truly amazing. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. I like variety in my Nativity sets-we have a stone resin one with Celtic figures, and my favorite tryptich from Oberammagau that my parents brought back-and I have a small frosted glass set that I put over a colored light pad. My heart's desire is one of the sets from Palestine made of Olive wood from 10,000 Vilages. Maybe next year. Simpler is always beter and I, too, like the last modern one.
    It is just so meaningful to see how different cultures have adapted the story to make meaning in their lives (excluding ones made from cats, penguins, and other kitsch).

    Merry Christmas and New Year blessings to you all. Thank you for brightening my days with your columns and cards.

  3. Mmmm, I love them all. I purchased one at Hallmark this year to give as a gift. Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus inside a large O, in the center of the word hope. All white with touches of gold; it lifts me up.

    Your question reminded me of a humanities class I took during college. One focus on paintings took the depiction of the crucifixion through the ages. The different artistic impressions were remarkable; but had so much in common. It is the only part of the class that sticks with me.

  4. Love the last two of your pics. The Nativity movie is fabulously done and we hope to watch it again this year on Christmas Eve as a wonderful reminder of that blessed event.

    We have a mini Nativity set and I want to get a much larger one with the full scene as I love how God used each person represented in the story of Christ's birth. Such an amazing and holy event...God's gift to restore His relationship with mankind. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

    Have a blessed Christmas and thanks for all your wonderful posts. Just love your writing :)

  5. I love the one in the last picture, because it's minimalistic and to me has a bigger impact.



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