Crèches of Germany: Tradition & Faith

Nov. 19, 2016 - Jan. 29, 2017

With its ancestral heritage, charming landscapes and villages and a culture deeply rooted in spirituality, one may say every day is Christmas in Germany.

Germans have safeguarded the customs, rituals and beliefs of Christmas, handing them down from generation to generation. The country is filled with villages that seem to pop out from a greeting card, announcing Frohe Weihnachten — Merry Christmas! Quaint shops sell glittering Christmas items winter, spring, summer and fall. Nativity scenes are displayed throughout the year in churches. Here, the joy of Christmas is evident even on sunny summer days, often evoking memories of childhood.

The Knights of Columbus Museum’s 12th annual Christmas exhibition, Crèches of Germany: Tradition & Faith, opens November 19, 2016, and continues until January 29, 2017. As in the past, many of the objects on display hail from the internationally renowned Museo del Presepio of Rome, Italian Friends of the Crèche Association and the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.

Although its German origins are uncertain, the crèche or Nativity scene presumably was introduced by Franciscan friars. The oldest recorded German crèche was housed in the Monastery of Füssen in Bavaria and dates to 1252, shortly after the arrival of the followers of St. Francis, the “poor man of Assisi,” who developed the custom of a Nativity scene some 30 years earlier.

From the 16th century on, the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits) is credited with spreading the tradition of the Nativity scene. Records from this period reveal that German monasteries, abbeys and churches added elaborate Nativity. In response to increasing requests for crèche accessories, markets known as Christkindlesmärkte (Christ Child Markets) began to flourish in cities such as Munich and Nuremberg.

In addition to the featured exhibition, on display will be several items from the Knights of Columbus Museum Collection, which includes crèches from various parts of the world. Among those on view will be hand-carved cedar nativity scene from Mexico and its popular 120-square-foot Baroque Neapolitan (Italian) diorama.

The Museum’s 16th annual Christmas Tree Festival opens with an 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. celebration on December 3, 2016. The festive display produces colorful and creative decorations as students from 24 schools across the state trim the museum trees with handmade ornaments featuring the customs and heritage of a German Christmas.

A Christmastime Family Day takes place December 31, 2016, from 12 noon to 3 p.m., with children’s crafts and live music.

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