In Ireland, a nativity scene is often created in peoples’ homes at Christmas time. Most refer to it as their ‘Christmas crib.’
In the first few weeks of December treasured crib sets are retrieved from storage boxes in attics or cupboards. They are usually displayed on a window sill, or on a fireplace mantle, or on a table in the hall.
When I was a little girl growing up in Dublin, setting up our Christmas crib was an integral part of decorating and preparing the house for Christmas.
In this post we’ll explore this Irish Christmas tradition plus you’ll also find a free printable for little ones, featuring a Christmas nativity scene, with figures to cut-out and fill in the scene.
But first join me on a trip down memory lane as I recall my childhood days setting up our crib for Christmas.
A Wooden Stable Forms The Crib:
An Irish Christmas crib was usually a small wooden stable with straw or moss placed on its floor to create the setting. Porcelain, plaster or wooden figures, to represent each participant in the Holy Nativity, were used to complete the scene.
The Christmas crib set was often a family heirloom passed down through the generations. Some were simple, and some were made of delicate porcelain.
My parents received a beautiful Hummel porcelain Christmas set for their wedding. They still display it every Christmas, but I must confess it’s not in perfect condition, thanks to me. Our Lady lost her halo and one poor shepherd lost a sheep, thanks to my high jinx one year.
Sequence for Populating the Crib:
There are rules to populating an Irish Christmas crib. Figurines join the scene at different stages over the Christmas period.
Until Christmas Eve only animals, the manger and some hay are allowed inside an Irish homemade nativity scene. At some point on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph arrive and are placed in the stable. On Christmas morning the baby Jesus is laid in the manger.
The shepherds visit in the days after Christmas, but the golden rule is to keep the wise men out of the stable for quite some time.
They need to wait on another shelf far away from the crib for 12 days after the birth of Jesus. They appear in the crib on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, also known as Women’s Little Christmas in Ireland.
A Crib In The Church:
The Catholic Churches in Irish villages, towns and cities were also decorated for Christmas with a much larger crib than the one found in Irish homes. This tradition continues to this very day.
Visiting this crib during the Christmas season was part of most families’ Christmas customs in years gone by.
Some people would even remove a strand of straw from the church crib to bring blessings to their household for the coming year.
Christmas Nativity Scenes In Towns:
Nativity scenes also feature in town centers throughout Ireland. Sometimes even the smallest of villages will have a crib on display.
The nativity scene pictured above is a feature on Dublin’s O’Connell Street each and every year.
Since 1995 a live crib scene is set up at Dublin’s Mansion House. The Irish Farmer’s Association works with Dublin City Council to display real animals in the crib.
Another fixture in Dublin is the Moving Crib at Saint Martin’s Apostolate on Parnell Square. The moving figures on display here, date back to the 1950’s and were lovingly restored in recent years.
There are many scenes from the Bible, animated by moving figures, displayed in the basement of an old Dublin Georgian building.
Visitors are greeted with a montage of stories, including Noah’s Ark, The Wise Men, and scenes from Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.
I remember visiting the Moving Crib as a child in Dublin nearly fifty years ago. This vintage Christmas experience is one of Dublin’s hidden gems, and part of Dublin’s cultural heritage.
Christmas Nativity Cut-Out and Matching Game:
To celebrate the importance of the nativity scene as part of our Irish cultural heritage, here’s a lovely printable for little ones.
You’ll find a Christmas scene to fill in with cut-out characters.
Click the picture or the link above and you’ll be taken to a PDF file which you are welcome to print and share.
I hope your little ones will have some fun creating their very own nativity scenes this Christmas.
Thanks for stopping by to check out my Christmas stories from Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom