Press-Republican

FYI...

December 16, 2012

Slate's Explainer: Why people put up nativity scenes

It's nearly impossible to go through December without seeing at least one nativity scene, whether it's a set of ceramic figurines in a private home, a life-size tableau in front of a church, or a cast of actors in a children's pageant. And rarely does a year go by that these representations of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the three wise men, some shepherds, and miscellaneous barn animals go unmolested by vandals or unchallenged by lawsuits. Why do people put up creches at Christmastime, anyway?

Blame St. Francis of Assisi, who is credited with staging the first nativity scene in 1223. The only historical account we have of Francis' nativity scene comes from "The Life of St. Francis of Assisi," by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis' death. According to Bonaventure's biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals — an ox and a donkey — in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about "the babe of Bethlehem." (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn't say "Jesus.") Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.

While this part of Bonaventure's story is dubious, it's clear that nativity scenes had enormous popular appeal. Francis' display came in the middle of a period when mystery or miracle plays were a popular form of entertainment and education for European laypeople. These plays, originally performed in churches and later performed in town squares, re-enacted Bible stories in vernacular languages. Since church services at the time were performed only in Latin, which few understood, miracle plays were the only way for laypeople to learn scripture. Francis' nativity scene used the same method of visual display to help locals understand and emotionally engage with Christianity.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
FYI...
  • news_twitter.jpg Travelers fly on Air Twitter

    The enlightened age of social media has dawned over the airline industry, casting shadows over telephone call centers and on-site agents. Facebook and Twitter are racking up the friends and followers while the hold music plays on.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • 297px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svg.png Why Starbucks won't recycle your paper coffee cup

    When you drop that used white paper cup into the bin next to the door at a Starbucks, have you done your part to save the planet? Starbucks has long hoped that you would think so. After all, there's no better way to attract an affluent, eco-conscious clientele than to convince customers that your disposable product is "renewable."

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.16.35 PM.png Are Americans smart to stop drinking diet sodas?

    Recent data from Beverage Digest suggest many are cutting back on diet sodas. Consumption of diet sodas fell more than that of sugary sodas in 2013. This raises two questions: Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health?

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fast, cheap test can help save lives of many babies

    As Easley did more research into her daughter's death, she learned that a pilot program had started just months earlier at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. (Easley had delivered at a different hospital in the Washington area.) The program's goal was to screen every newborn with a simple pulse oximeter test that can help detect heart problems such as Veronica's, allowing doctors to respond.

    April 12, 2014

  • Starbucks retools pastry menu after customer complaints

    After the coffee chain bought gourmet-baking company La Boulange in 2012, it used the acquisition to add fancier pastries to U.S. locations. Now Starbucks is discovering that some customers liked the food better before, prompting another round of retooling.

    April 11, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Taking someone out to the ballgame gets expensive

    Families in big-league cities like Boston and New York pay steep prices to catch a baseball game. It's not so expensive everywhere - especially if you're frugal.
     

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • How improv comedy skills became a must-have for entrepreneurs

    A few years ago, for complex reasons, I attended the orientation week for Columbia Business School students. The week involved team-building exercises that forced us to solve problems together.

    April 9, 2014

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms

    Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 7, 2014

  • Newborn.JPG Census: U.S. has fewest births since 1998

    The U.S. recorded the most deaths in its history and the fewest births since 1998, resulting in the lowest population gain from natural causes in 35 years, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau estimates released Thursday shows.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo