Churches have Nativity scene programs for Christmas

A project in its sixth year will have family activities on Dec. 24 in many churches

People will be able to see more than 30 Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve in Prague churches. This year, five more churches have joined in the sixth year project.

A Nativity scene shows the birth of Jesus, usually in a manger surrounded by St Mary, St Joseph, the Three Wise Men and other figures including animals. A Czech tradition though often changes the figures from traditional representations to more modern or whimsical ones, and updates the location as well.

Some of the Nativity scenes, called betlémy in Czech, are quite elaborate. The Church of St Matthew (kostel sv. Matěje) in Dejvice is famous for its gingerbread version. In Hradčany, the Church of Our Lady of the Queen of Angels (kostel Panny Marie Andělské) has a life-sized nativity scene and the one in Petrovice in the Church of St. James the Greater (kostel sv. Jakuba Staršího) is made up of about 600 figures based on parishioners.

The Archdiocese of Prague has published a booklet on the history of each of each of the Nativity scenes, and it is available in churches or tourist information centers. A timetable shows when and where it is possible to visit the Nativities and also gives the time for Sunday services.

The Betlémy 2017 project is part of the Křesťanské Vánoce project, which takes place throughout the Czech Republic and is also connected with Betlémské světlo, which sees Scouts bring a flame from Bethlehem to the Czech Republic.

There will also be games and activities that children can participate in. Children can get small figures while supplies last.

The Nativity scenes each have different histories. Some are made to order, others are part of the amateur work of several generations of one family. They often reflects the customs of the region where they come from.

In Prague, the first recorded Nativity scene was in 1562 in the Church of St. Clement (kostel sv. Klimenta) in the Klementinum in Old Town.

Some Czech towns such as Třebechovice and Třešť have long traditions of Nativity scenes. The practice has spread in recent years to almost every church.

Nativity scenes can also be found at other locations, such as the main Christmas markets, where they are set up with an area for people to stand and pose in front of the figures for photos.

There is also a Nativity scene with characters from the novel The Good Soldier Švejk at the Prague 3 information center on náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad.

According to Christian tradition, Jesus was born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem in what is now the West Bank of Palestine. There was no room at local inns, which forced a couple of Mary and Joseph to resort to staying in a shed or cave for animals. The supposed location is the site of the current Church of the Nativity. Some scholars dispute the location.

The date of the birth is also disputed, with little evidence to suggest it was on Dec. 24 or 25.

Jesus is regarded by Christians as the son of God.

For more information on Christmas celebrations in Prague visit www.krestanskevanoce.cz (CZ)

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