The characters of the nativity scene

The characters of the nativity scene

The Nativity

The nativity scene can be of different types, as we have seen there is the Neapolitan one, there is the living one and there are other types, each of which has its own typical traits, and obviously its own typical characters, however, in each nativity scene, whether traditional or particular, certain characters cannot be missing for any reason in the world, which are symbols of the nativity scene itself, therefore, together with the Child Jesus who appears on December 24 at midnight, there are many other figurines that in a nativity scene can not be missing and which we will talk about in this article.

Main characters

As I said, every nativity scene, of any type, must still have a certain type of characters that cannot be missing, let's see what they are. The angels, their task is varied, but in the nativity scene they usually warn the workers of the birth of Jesus and they can be one or more than one, in fact there is no limit to their number. The Holy Family, the characters that compose it are obviously the cornerstone of each crib, the smaller cribs that only reproduce the hut where Jesus was born cannot fail to have these characters. The Holy Family is obviously composed of Jesus, who according to tradition is placed in the manger on December 24 at midnight, Mary, usually represented with white clothes to emphasize its purity, and St. Joseph, who is depicted with a stick and usually with traits and clothes similar to those of the shepherds. Players, typical of each crib are the bagpipe players, they are placed in front of the hut and are more typical in living nativity scenes, their purpose is to celebrate the birth of Jesus with music. Artisans, artisans represent professions in some cribs, they are widely used both in living cribs and in the Neapolitan crib, in each area of ​​our country different workers are represented, each of them representing old professions typical of that territory. The shepherds, another key figure that never fails in any crib, in fact even the most modest cribs use to have at least one shepherd near the hut. These characters represent the poorest social class and are the first to go to adoration of Jesus, they can be placed in the crib intent on various activities and there is really no limit to their number, the richest and most varied cribs are in fact full of shepherds who take their flock to pasture or rest under a tree, often far from the village. The animals in the crib are just as important and there are different types, obviously there are the sheep of the shepherds, then there are the dromedaries of the Magi and, most important of all, the donkey and the ox in the hut of Jesus, placed as per tradition near the manger. The Magi, they are placed at a distance from the hut and village and according to tradition they should be approached to the aforementioned hut only on the occasion of the epiphany.

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Secondary characters

Below we will present completely secondary characters, characters that are usually not present in all cribs but only in some more details. For example, only the most equipped and carefully made cribs, those for display, to be clear, have Roman soldiers among the characters, these are located near the house or fortress of Herod and represent the persecution against Christians (census and massacre). Otherwise there are two characters, the demons and the beggars, which not all traditions accept and only some place in their cribs. The beggars are to be placed near the hut among the shepherds who go to adoration while begging among themselves. The demons, on the other hand, are very secondary figures, they usually get confused among the shepherds, of whom they take the form, and are characterized by extreme ugliness, with a sad face for the birth of the Child Jesus.

The characters of the crib: local characters

We have already talked about some of these in the sections dedicated to specific types of cribs, for example the typical crafts of artisans in living cribs and Benino, a shepherd boy typical of the Neapolitan crib but present with other names also in other traditional cribs. In Sicily there are two characters who are placed in the crib, Zu Innaru and Sbaundatu ra stidda, the first is an old man next to a stove that represents the cold month of January while the second is a shepherd who first sees the comet in the distance . The Bolognese, on the other hand, are used to insert in the crib Meraviglia, a young female inhabitant of the village who is usually immortalized in the act of amazement that overtakes her at the good news. The Tuscans, on the other hand, have a male figure, Festoso, who, however, as the name suggests, rejoices rather than be surprised.


The crib is the representation of the birth of Jesus, created by the will of St. Francis, who, after his trip to Bethlehem, wanted to recall the scene of the Nativity in the town of Greccio. It is the symbol of Christmas and is represented in every country.

The Cardile nativity scene was born from a specific intention: to represent the village of Cardile in its peculiar aspects, but inserting it into the problems of the contemporary world. In the face of intolerance, fanaticism, mutual racial and religious closures, we want to convey the conviction that, while safeguarding the identity of every group, nation or religion, in reality there are many aspects that we share with others. Just think of the Christmas star. It is a universal symbol of religions and is present in the Jewish tradition (the six-pointed star of David) and in the Muslim one (the star together with the moon appears in the flag of many Muslim states).

The visitor who looks at the nativity scene will be able to admire the specific characteristics of the small village of Cardile, but will also be able to realize that there are many symbols of the nativity scene, which bring us closer to the experience of other religious traditions in the world. GOD DOES NOT DIVIDE, BUT COMBINES!

edited by Don Angelo Imbriaco

The story of the Easter nativity scene

The tradition of the Easter nativity scene dates back to a long time ago. The nativity scene of the passion was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries before being almost completely forgotten in central and western Europe. Only gradually did the wood carvers begin to dedicate themselves again to this difficult moment, creating nativity scenes of the passion, which are depicted in churches showing the scenes of Jesus' suffering. The representation of the different phases of the history of the Passion requires, in addition to artistic skill. , also the willingness to deal intensely with sad and cruel scenes. In some communities, Easter nativity scenes are created with the participation of numerous community members with long-term projects. The Lenten nativity scene is widespread in southern Europe.

How to learn how to build figurines?

The nativity figurines they can be made in salt dough, in das or in ceramic, modeling the shapes of the main characters such as the Madonna, the St. Joseph or the Baby Jesus, or using ready-made silicone molds that can be found in DIY stores. If you are skilled with manual work or already experienced, you can use a cutter to trace the lines of the face or to draw the folds of clothes. After drying the figurines or putting them in the oven to bake, you can paint them white and cover them with a veil of glossy spray paint, even better if it is waterproof. In Italy, as well as in the rest of the world, there are also people who, in addition to building them, do not make a real hobby. And there are also those who, especially at Christmas when there is a real boom, sell them, making an interesting profit. Not only that: beyond the gain, get beautiful ones nativity figurines gives a lot of satisfaction. However, if you are too lazy or do not have time, you can find some in the Christmas markets beautiful handmade figurines , while if you do not know where to start, on Youtube and on Amazon you can find many tutorials and books that explain step by step how making nativity statues by hand . As for the casts to make them , they are very easy to find as they can be found in the most well-stocked DIY stores or on the internet.

Peculiarities of the Neapolitan nativity scene

The Neapolitan nativity scene is a real tradition for the Neapolitans: the construction of the O Presebbio , as it is also called, begins on December 8th and can end in a few days or continue until December 25th. The baby Jesus is never put before Christmas, while the statuettes , which are handcrafted and handmade, they are bought in the district of San Gregorio Armeno, which quickly became famous for the presence of workshops where craftsmen specialized in the construction of individual pieces work. The most used figurines they are obviously those of the Nativity, but there are others classic characters which, while not appearing in the majority of Italian cribs, are instead considered a must in the Neapolitan one. Such as O Benito, the shepherd boy who sleeps blissfully and who is believed to give rise to the whole crib thanks to his dream, or Cicci Bacchus, a character reminiscent of the ancient pagan divinity Bacchus. There are also Zi Vicienzo and Zi Pascale, the two cronies who personify Carnival and Death, or the gypsy, a young woman with torn but flashy clothes who foresees the future. Between new characters of the Neapolitan nativity scene we can find instead Mario Balotelli and Raffaella Fico , caricatures of other famous people or politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi , the judges of television shows such as Masterchef and the Pokemon Hunter.

The scenes

Easter nativity scenes are generally medium in size to enhance the intense narrative in biblical stories. Depending on the version, some scenes from the passion story are left out. Easter nativity scenes usually begin with entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Holy Thursday follows, in which Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane and Judas appears with the Roman soldiers to betray him. The crucifixion of Good Friday takes up a large part of the Easter nativity scene. Usually the closed tomb can also be seen on Holy Saturday, before the women in front of the open tomb witness the miracle of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. There is also no lack of dialogue between the risen Jesus and the disciples of Emmaus. Some Easter nativity scenes also show Jesus ascending to heaven.

Other scenes may be, for example, the Last Supper, the scourging of Jesus, the capture on the Mount of Olives and the condemnation of Jesus. Artists who dare to make a Passion Nativity usually adhere closely to the biblical model and decorate their figures with a lot of imagination to represent the events in the most realistic way possible.

The meaning of the typical characters

Holy Family

Mary, Joseph and Jesus wear poor, ruined, even dirty clothes. Maria is Joseph they live in a condition of urgency and emergency, due to the imminent birth and the absence of a suitable place in which to give birth to baby Jesus. The three of them they represent poverty and humility, but also the strength and purity of spirit of those who do not give up. They are the symbol that embodies all the values ​​of the Christian family.

The ox and the donkey

The ox and the donkey symbolize the instincts and drives of the human being. They are gifts of God, and as such they must be listened to in order to understand ourselves, the nature that surrounds us and to make the men and women that God wants us to become.

The drives and instincts of man, that is, his earthly components, are therefore precious qualities, to be used and trained to assist the spirit, which is instead the divine aspect of the human soul. And in fact, returning to symbolism, the dark and the donkey - instincts and impulses - warm the little baby Jesus, who is the spirit.

The Magi

The Three Kings are among the characters of the nativity scene who, depending on the element that is taken into consideration, take on the greatest number of symbolic meanings.

If we take into consideration their journey following the comet and the advanced age painted on their faces, it is clear that they represent the the wise and the wise from all over the world, since the only historical compatibility is that they were scholars of the stars, that is astrologers.

If we look at the Armenian gospel of childhood, a gospel considered apocryphal where, however, the Magi are present, we find their names, namely Gaspar, Melchior and Baldassarre, who are three Persian priests (respectively Gaspar, Melkon and Balthasar), but who are almost always represented in a slightly different way. one from the others and, above all, each of them honors the birth of the Child Jesus by bringing a different gift. Here then is that the gold bearer is a Persian, the one who carries the incense is a southern Arab is the king who gives myrrh an Ethiopian, thus symbolizing the three great geographical areas of the world that was then known, namely Europe, Asia and Africa.

The work "Adoration of the Magi" (Mantegna)

But sometimes among the statuettes of the Magi we find some that do not show men similar to each other in physical appearance, but very different according to the years they bring. We find:

  • Baldassarre (old) riding a black horse
  • Gasparre (young man) riding a white horse
  • Melchior (dark) riding a tawny horse

They are the three horses, together with the Magi a symbolize the three moments of the day, namely night, midday and dawn. Here then is that the phases of the day symbolized by the Magi are linked to the symbolic meaning of their own journey, chasing a star that rises and travels in the sky until it alights (or sets) in conjunction with the arrival of a new sun (represented obviously from the Child Jesus, whose figurine, at times, has a crown of sun rays).

The shepherds

Shepherds can have a double meaning:

  • on the one hand, especially according to some passages of Hebrew literature, they are people who live by their wits, of the cheaters who ended up on the fringes of society
  • on the other hand, if we look at the Old Testament, we see that many patriarchs in the history of Israel are pastors (e.g. Moses and Abraham). There is also a reference to the expression "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing" that we find in Psalm 22.

However you want to frame them, there is no doubt that the shepherds represent poverty and humility. And even if they were at least in part of the bad guys, then they double contribute to creating the extremely desperate conditions in which God chose to have his son come into the world (we also remember the two thieves alongside whom Christ will be crucified), in the promise of redemption from sins.

Finally, let us not forget that, as they watch over their flock day and night, they they also represent protectors.

Video: The Star 2017 - The Nativity Scene 1010. Movieclips