As we come to the close of the Advent season and fully embrace the joy and miracle that is Christmas, we must remember that all the trappings of hygge we’ve considered over the past three weeks are nothing compared to the hygge which we can each find in our hearts.
The nativity scene present in churches, homes, and many public spaces during this season is a beautiful reminder of the hygge that can be found anywhere and in anything. According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph went inn to inn, looking for a place to stay on their long journey to Bethlehem. The best shelter they could find was a stable, where Mary laid the infant Jesus to rest in a manger of hay — food for the animals living there. The Christmas story gets a bit of joy, mystery, and magic from these details, as we each imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph, as they brought the Son of God into the earthly world.
It was St. Francis of Assisi, though, who popularized the idea of nativity scenes to model this incredible event. In the 1300s, much like carols, most religious events and prayers were conducted entirely in Latin, which few people aside from the wealthy and the clergy could understand. Francis observed the need for a Christmas event that could both educate and involve the community, driving them all to be more active in their faith lives. So, with the blessing of Pope Honorious III, he organized the first ever “nativity play” in Grecio, Italy in 1223.
This first enactment of the birth of Christ included a manger, an ox, and a donkey. Francis set up the scene in an actual barn in the town, and invited the villagers to come and explore the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.”
Francis could not have chosen a better period to decide that a play would be the best way to share the good news of Christ’s birth with his community. “Mystery” and “miracle” plays were a very popular form of entertainment in Medieval Europe, and laypeople loved the familiar staging of such a fantastic event. The success of that first play is still seen today, as we bring small mangers and figures for Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, and the Wise Men into our own homes almost 800 years later.
Nativity plays, too, live on as extremely popular parish and religious events in some communities. Nativity scenes are unique to each person that chooses to create one in his or her home: some don’t include the Wise Men until the Feast of the Epiphany (when they reportedly arrived at Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’s home); some are staged in modern clothing or settings; some are new sets; some are passed down through generations of family members.
This Advent, look at the manger in your home, or the one here at Saint Brendan, and think: How can this hygge, which
Mary and Joseph managed to create in a cold, drafty barn in the middle of winter, inspire the hygge of my heart all year long?
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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