Editorial Note: This series features Nativity sets from Africa on display in the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Sixth Annual International Crèche Exhibit at the University of Notre Dame.
Since the Middle Ages, recreating the story of Christ’s birth through a Nativity scene has been a beloved Christmas tradition around the world. These nativity scenes, or crèches, typically depict the Holy Family with the eclectic cast of characters found in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels: shepherds, magi, angels, and animals crowd around the manger to welcome the newborn King. While many of these crèche displays are simply breathtaking works of art, their value goes far beyond their technical or visual appeal; the tactile and colorful materials inspire reflection on the entrance of God into the very tactile world in the Incarnation. This reminder of the humanity of Christ—from his humble bed in a manger to the loving attention of his mother and foster father—invites the viewers to enter deeply into the mystery of Christmas.