In the Christian tradition, a nativity scene also known as a manger scene, or in Italian presepio or presepe, or Bethlehem, is the special exhibition, particularly during the Christmas season, of art objects representing the birth of Jesus.
While the term “nativity scene” may be used of any representation of the very common subject of the Nativity of Jesus in art, it has a more specialized sense referring to seasonal displays, either using model figures in a setting or reenactments called “living nativity scenes” in which humans and animals participate.
Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph.
Other characters from the nativity story, such as shepherds, sheep, and angels may be displayed near the manger in a barn (or cave) intended to accommodate farm animals, as described in the Gospel of Luke.
A donkey and an ox are typically depicted in the scene, and the Magi and their camels, described in the Gospel of Matthew, are also included. Many also include a representation of the Star of Bethlehem. Several cultures add other characters and objects that may or may not be Biblical.
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first live nativity scene in 1223 in order to cultivate the worship of Christ. He himself had recently been inspired by his visit to the Holy Land, where he’d been shown Jesus’s traditional birthplace.
The scene’s popularity inspired communities throughout Christian countries to stage similar exhibitions.
Distinctive nativity scenes and traditions have been created around the world, and are displayed during the Christmas season in churches, homes, shopping malls, and other venues, and occasionally on public lands and in public buildings.