The custom of displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ owes its origin to St. Francis of Assisi, who made the first Christmas creche or manger scene for Christmas Eve of 1223.
Within 100 years, this kind of display had become a custom and every church in Italy was expected to have a Nativity scene during the Christmas season.
Perhaps the most viewed Nativity scene is displayed in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. For many years, this Nativity featured figurines that had been commissioned by St. Vincent Pallotti in 1842.
St. Vincent, the founder of the Pallottine Fathers, had donated the Nativity scene to the Basilica of Sant’ Andrea della Valle for the celebration of the Octave of the Epiphany. In 1982, the Society of the Catholic Apostolate gave the figures to Pope John Paul II for use in the Piazza San Pietro.
*Today was traditionally called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ (the Latin word ‘gaudete’ means “rejoice”)