A Christmas Manger Scene Explained

We've all seen the manger scenes that pop up during the Christmas holidays, but who exactly are the characters depicted in these scenes?

Every Christmas, families everywhere pull their manger scenes from the attic and put them up around the house or on the front lawn. Chances are, you've seen these mangers spring up in the fronts of churches and residences during the winter holidays. These depictions of the birth of Jesus Christ are usually made from plastic, wood or ceramic. If you have seen these manger scenes and wondered just who all of the characters are, then read on.

As the story is told, Gabriel, an angel, came to Mary and told her that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God. As she was merely engaged to a man named Joseph, she asked how this could be. The angel ensured her that God was powerful enough to do anything. She and Joseph married soon after. As Gabriel promised, Mary soon became pregnant. Right before Mary was to give birth, the ruler of the time, Augustus, wanted to take a population census. He demanded that everybody register in their birth city, which meant that Mary and Joseph needed to travel to Bethlehem. When they arrived, Mary knew it was time to give birth. As the city was very crowded, they searched and found a stable where Mary could deliver Jesus. When he was born, they wrapped him up in swaddling clothing and placed him in a manger, which is essentially an animal food trough.

This is what the manger scene depicts. The baby in the manger is, of course, Jesus Christ. The woman kneeling next to Baby Jesus is his mother Mary, and the man standing behind Mary is Joseph. Mary and Joseph are usually dressed in very humble clothes. Sometimes, the manger scene will also have a few barn animals that may have been in the stable at the time. But who are the other characters in the scene, you might ask?


When Jesus was born, it is said that an angel appeared to shepherds tending to their flocks nearby and proclaimed the birth of the Son of God. Naturally, these shepherds were eager to see the Baby Jesus, so they are often depicted in the manger scene with their staffs and sheep. The angel is also seen as well, usually in the center of the scene directly behind the Baby Jesus.

Meanwhile, in the city of Bethlehem, Herod, the ruler, was visited by three wise men who knew of the prophecy of Christ. They asked Herod to point them in the direction of the Baby Jesus. Herod, an extremely prideful ruler, did not like that these men felt that the Baby Jesus was the "true" ruler. He "kindly" asked the wise men to let him know when they found the Baby Jesus so that he could pay his respects. Of course, he wanted to know the location of Jesus so he could kill him. It is said that the three wise men followed the path of a bright star to find Baby Jesus in the manger. When they arrived, they came bearing gifts of myrrh, gold and frankincense. They, too, are depicted in the manger scene, usually wearing finer clothes and crowns.

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