Many centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi was the first to make a Christmas creche, or manger, displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus.
St. Francis created the manger for Christmas Eve in 1223, according to the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB recommends that families gather to bless their Christmas manger or nativity set on the Vigil of Christmas, but if you set up the manger earlier in the Christmas season, you can bless it then.
A parent or other family member blesses the nativity scene with a prayer, taken from “Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers:”
All make the sign of the cross as the leader says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.”
The family members respond: “Who made heaven and earth.”
One of those present, or the leader, reads a text of sacred Scripture, for example, Luke 2:1 (lines 1-8) or Isaiah 7:10 (lines 10-15, the birth of Emmanuel). Upon completing the Scripture reading, the leader says: “The Gospel of the Lord.” Family members respond: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then the leader prays with hands joined:
“God of every nation and people,
from the very beginning of creation
you have made manifest your love:
when our need for a Savior was great
you sent your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary.
To our lives he brings joy and peace,
justice, mercy, and love.
bless all who look upon this manger;
may it remind us of the humble birth
and raise our thoughts to him,
who is God-with-us and Savior of all,
and who lives and reigns forever and ever.”
The family responds: “Amen.”
Many Catholic families leave the manger or nativity set mostly empty during Advent, except for the animals. Then on Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition to add the angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph. Some parents add baby Jesus overnight on Christmas Eve as a surprise for the children on Christmas morning.
One fun tradition is to place the three kings someplace in the house at a distance from the manger so that they can “journey” to Jesus over the 12 days following Christmas, arriving at the manger on the Feast of Epiphany.
Peanut Butter & Grace, a Catholic family life website, suggests that the three kings move to a different room or area of your home each day. You can ask them to search the house for them each morning. When you find them, pray with your kids: “O holy magi, help us to see Christ in this place, and make it holy in all we say and all we do here. Amen.”
On the Feast of the Epiphany, Peanut Butter & Grace notes, the family can read the Gospel account of the visit of the three wise men (Matthew 2:1-12), then march together through the house holding the figures of the three kings, singing “We Three Kings.”
As you celebrate Epiphany, you also might consider making or buying a King’s Cake, a sweet cake in which a small figure of the baby Jesus is hidden. Searching for the baby Jesus in the cake imitates the Magi’s search for Jesus. Recipes for King’s Cake are available at the Catholic Cuisine website,