The nativity scene represents the birth of Jesus. Through time the nativity scene has been used in two ways, differing only in how the event was perceived. The first perception aims at depicting this sacred event as a historical act and as religiously as possible, also by depicting parallel occurrences, whereas the second intends to depict the birth of Jesus as a divine secret, a mystery. In the first case the baby Jesus is put into the crib and in the second he is put on the altar. In both cases the nativity scene focuses on preserving the historical memory as fully as possible, whereas the only distinction between the two is the fact that in the second case the philosophical approach of the event is considered as well.

During the times of creating the first frescoes and eventually showing plastic representations of the birth of Jesus, other frescoes were created as well, depicting a variety of important events in Christian history and these artworks are known as The Poor Man’s Bible, conveying biblical teachings to the largely illiterate population.

The representation of the birth of Jesus started in the early Christian catacombs and continued later on as well. As an illustration the oldest depiction of the birth of Jesus is probably the one represented on the signet ring of the Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Gornji Grad in the 13th century. This, however, did not depict the nativity scene as we perceive it today, either plastic or living (tableau vivant), at home or in the church.

The first living nativity scene was presented by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 in his cave above the village Greccio in Italy. In Slovenia, the first living nativity scene was staged in Ljubljana in 1644 by the Jesuits.

The Slovenian relation to nativity scene is probably presented the most beautifully by the Slovenian poet Oton Zupančič in his poem, entitled SLOVENSKI STROP (The Slovenian Ceiling*).


The Slovenian ceiling rises from the corner,
from nativity scene, from Bethlehem,
from the godly birth
from Christmas.

The nativity scene in the corner above the table,
the moss and the shepherd, the barn and the Holy Family
and Betlehem,
white stars on the black ceiling,
golden nuts falling from the stars,
from the biggest star, crafted oh so artificially,
(children played, making it so artificial)
the Holy Spirit.

The Three kings have ridden off,
following the shooting star above,
the nativity scene is gone,
but the sky still rises above the table
with the stars, the nuts,
the Holy Spirit
and the family gathers all around it
year in day out.

Were I to paint the Slovenian room,
were I to divide the Slovenian ceiling
by art and the will of the people:
In our room the corner is the centre,
our ceiling rises from the corner,
our year rises from Christmas,
our family from the Holy Family,
our mind from the Holy Spirit –
that is how our people wanted.

Oton Župančič