Did you know that putting the manager under the tree at Christmas was started by St. Francis of Assisi? Did you also know that the reason people take a piece of straw from the church manger on Christmas has to do with St. Francis of Assisi too? If not, let me share with you the story of these two great traditions as told by Thomas of Celano and paraphrased by me.
It started with a man named John who lived in the town of Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was very fond of John, who had a good reputation, and lived an honorable and holy life. Fifteen days before Christmas St. Francis told John to go with haste and meticulously prepare the things St. Francis requested because he wanted to recreate the events that took place that special evening in Bethlehem. He wanted others to know the inconveniences of the baby Jesus. How he lay in a manger surrounded by oxen and asses laying on hay. When John heard of the details given by St. Francis he left in a hurry to prepare all that he needed to recreate the birth.
Men, women and children gathered together with open hearts bringing with them candles and torches to light the night like the gleaming star. When St. Francis arrived and saw everything prepared as he wished and the town of Greccio turned into the stable at Bethlehem he was filled with joy as were the very woods, rocks, and gathered people. The brothers sang, and Mass celebrated over the manger. The saint of God wore garments of a deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the Gospel in the most beautiful voice. Then he preached on the Nativity and the poor child king in the little town of Bethlehem.
God’s blessings multiplied that night, and a miraculous vision was given to a virtuous man. He saw the baby Jesus lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw St. Francis try and wake the baby from a deep sound slumber. This vision was a true representation of the deep sleeping baby Jesus, who was forgotten in the hearts of so many. By the Grace of God, he was brought back to life again by St. Francis, who reawakened their memory.
The hay placed in the manager was saved so that God would multiply His blessings and save the animals through His mercy because there were various illnesses scattered around the region killing large amounts of the animals. In truth when the animals ate of this hay they were cured and sustained. When hay was placed on laboring women in pain and anguish for long periods of time stopped laboring and delivered safely. Births increased in Greccio and those suffering from various illnesses obtained health.
In time, on the very spot St. Francis stood over the manger the people of Greccio made sacred. They built an altar and surrounded it by a Church. Where the animals ate the hay and transformed, we would eat the flesh of Jesus in the Eucharist and be transformed into disciples of Christ following in the footsteps of St. Francis. So the next time you gaze upon the Nativity scene think about the events created by St. Francis that inspired the tradition of bringing the stable at Bethlehem into your homes. When you recall the story, also recall, the necessity to arouse the deep sleeping baby Jesus within your heart and don’t forget to pick out a piece of straw from the manger after it is blessed on Christmas day.
Fr. Pio Mandetto OFS, Cap., had given me a beautiful Advent reflection one day and I thought it so beautiful and since it pertains to the story I want to share with all of you.
In humility seek to be nothing more than a little straw in my manger at Bethlehem. Perhaps my mother picks you up and places you over my heart in the desire to keep me warm. There you move up and down with every beat of my heart, perfectly synchronized with my heart, but never seeking attention for yourself.
This is how you should live- seeking to comfort me, living in accord with my heart, which is Divine Love, but never seeking to be noticed or set apart from others.