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Nativity scene - Croatian Christmas Tradition

The manger is a depiction of the birth of Jesus described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. They consist of movable or immovable figurines of the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and landscape scenery. More complex manger has many other characters such as shepherds, angels, the three holy kings, etc. There are also living manger with people dressed in Mary and Joseph, standing motionless while a living child representing Jesus lies in the crib. The ox and the donkey are often an integral part of the manger, although they are not mentioned in the biblical description of Jesus' birth.

Nativity scenes are placed in homes on Christmas Eve and remain until the Feast of the Epiphany, and in churches until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. The first nativity scene was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the Italian town of Greece in 1223. The first nativity scene with figurines was erected in the Fussen monastery in Bavaria in 1252. The nativity scene as we know it today dates back to the 16th century and flourished after the First World War. The oldest Croatian nativity scene is kept on the islet of Košljun near Krk.

The scenography of nativity scenes as we know it dates back to the 16th century, and although interest in their public display has declined on several occasions, they are a common motif today, although it seems that their value is far more often in aesthetics than in spiritual meaning. In this sense, it is worth mentioning that there is a growing interest in the living manger, which we are witnessing in many Croatian cities.

Nativity scenes are the most important external sign of Christmas, and therefore they deserve not only a prominent place, but their purpose is to encourage us to think about God's saving work and to provoke gratitude in everyone who looks at them for such and so many gifts.

Perhaps it is best to make a crib from any available material and thus celebrate Christmas. This is exactly what was shown at the Christmas nativity scene exhibition in Žminj Tower in December. In this centre of Istria, all visitors could see the unique crib made of styrofoam, newsprint, clay, wood, pebbles, aluminium foil! We also bring here photos from that exhibition, taken by the director of the Žminj Tourist Board, Lenka Šajina!


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