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?