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Pope’s letter on nativity scenes shares the story behind a beloved Christmas tradition

Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter on December 1 on the meaning and importance of nativity scenes, calling for this “wonderful sign” to be more widely displayed in family homes and public places throughout the world.

“The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder. The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God,” Pope Francis wrote in Admirabile signum, meaning “A wonderful sign” in Latin.

“With this letter, I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares,” he said.

Pope Francis travelled to the Italian town of Greccio – where St Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 – where the pope signed the letter on the first day of Advent.

“In front of the crib, we discover how important it is for our life, so often frenetic, to find moments of silence and prayer. The silence to behold the beauty of the face of the baby Jesus, the Son of God, born in a lowly stable,” Pope Francis said in Greccio on December 1.

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