By Larry Ellis
St. Francis of Assisi gave us one of the most beautiful Christmas customs. One December a long time ago, St. Francis was living in a cave on a hillside outside of a small town called Greccio. He had a great love for Christmas, wanting to share his feelings and help the people in the town celebrate in some special way.
St. Francis asked the people in the town to bring their animals – donkeys, sheep and oxen – to the cave where he was staying, here he also set up a crib, as there had been in Bethlehem. The people came, brought their animals and celebrated Midnight Mass to welcome Christmas Day. During the Mass St. Francis and the townspeople saw a vision in which St. Francis reached into the crib and picked up the Baby Jesus, whom they “saw as alive and real.” Everyone was so filled with joy and love that it is said they didn’t need torches to find their way home that night because they were “glowing with love.”
This event is said to have been the beginning of the custom of setting up manger scenes, both indoors and outside, all around the world at Christmas time.