Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The French Crèche

One of the most important French Christmas symbols is that of the crèche, or nativity scene. Found in every church and most homes, the crèche is the scene of the birth of the Christ child. In France, the baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve, as seen here in a photo taken earlier in the month at the nativity scene at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The shepherds and angels gather nearby.

The very first nativity scene ever, a living one, was assembled by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224, and the idea of a crèche became more popular by the time of the Renaissance. It was interesting on our recent trip to visit different churches in Paris to see their own interpretations. This one was in La Madeleine church. Life sized mannequins.

L'Eglise de St. Roch embellished its permanent monument to the Nativity.

This sweet one is from the church of St. Germain on the Left Bank of Paris,

and this one we found at the St. Sulpice church.

While having dinner in the home of some French friends, I spotted their simple family crèche,

surrounded by some of the townspeople.

The crèche that I bought in France years ago is one of the first things I bring out each year when decorating.

We saw this one outside of a restaurant near Notre Dame. I thought it was interesting that they covered the baby Jesus, and I assume they will remove the little blanket on Christmas Eve.

A tradition that first began during the French Revolution was to make little terracotta figures, or santons to place at the stable. At that time, many of the churches in France had been closed and Nativity scenes prohibited, so the people were looking for a way to remember the birth of Christ in their own homes. From the Provence region of France, came the custom of having not only the Biblical figures at the birth,

but also the townspeople. Often the mayor, the peasants, and all the characters representing different walks of life surround the stable. As you can see, the selection of santons is amazing.

The biggest display I have ever seen was in a Christmas market just outside the St. Sulpice church. You can see in the two photos just how extensive this crèche really is. Then click on the video for a panorama of the scene.

"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."


  1. I love when it is time to take out my Nativity Scenes. My favorite is my Willow Tree Nativity because David, Kelly, Jeremy and Mandy gave it to me one year. That year, I left it out all year long.

  2. I love this... I learned a lot. We saw Santos being painted by a guy in a tiny shop in Marseilles. So cute!

    Thanks for taking the time.