by Maureen McKew

With the lighting of the great tree at Rockefeller Center on December 4, New York City officially marked the beginning of the Christmas season.  Thousands of people will flock to see the tree and then head over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to see our much loved crèche.

We observe the same traditions, albeit on a smaller scale, in our homes, especially the crèche.  For this we can thank St. Francis of Assisi, as our Holy Father noted this past Sunday during a trip to Greccio, Italy, the mountain village where St. Francis created the first crèche in 1223 to commemorate the birth of Jesus.

The Pope used his visit to deliver his Apostolic Letter, Admirabile signum,  in which he writes about the meaning and importance of the Nativity scene. The English translation from the Holy See of the title is “enchanting image.” Truly it is.  I hope you will take the time to read this wonderful message from Pope Francis and share it as much as you can with your family, your friends and anyone else who sees a Nativity scene.

One thing that caught my attention was the Pope’s mention of the extra figures that people like to place in the scene. He wrote:  “Children – but adults too! – often love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts. Yet, each in its own way, these fanciful additions show that in the new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for whatever is truly human and for all God’s creatures.”

All God’s creatures surely would include Lexington, the retriever statue that sits in the Cathedral crèche. For the last several years, this image of a Labrador Retriever who belonged to the Cathedral rector, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, has been a great drawing card. People who aren’t familiar with Luke’s Nativity narrative or perhaps are disengaged from their faith still find it hard to resist this faithful pooch, who sits near the empty manger, patiently watching for the central figure to arrive just before Midnight Mass at Christmas.

Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to put up your own enchanting image of the Nativity and share it with all who come to your home.