Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit to Greccio wrote a dessert letter on the devotion of the crib which dates back directly to San Francesco. I highly recommend reading it.
The custom of preparing the crib is spread all over the world but finds its special roots in Naples. Edoardo De Filippo wrote a tender comedy that many know, Christmas in the Cupiello house, in which two worlds are compared. That of the elderly Lucariello made of traditions, of family union even in the midst of the inevitable harshness derived from coexistence (the spoiled and spiteful son who says: "I don't like 'or crib") and, in contrast, the modern world in which stir up new needs for selfish happiness that generate family betrayals and fractures. Lucariello (even in the midst of small contrasts with his wife who cannot make coffee but remains the queen of the onion omelette) is intent on preparing his nativity scene with commitment while a tragedy unfolds around which he does not realize: the daughter he wants to blow up the marriage and wants to live with his lover, generating terrible tensions. When Lucariello finally realizes the drama around him, he dies. It is consoled by the disgruntled son who finally admits: "I like it 'or crib".
I would like to reiterate that I also like "crib". I like Christmas and I don't find it a paganized party at all: in the meantime it continues to be called Christmas which means that someone was born. That this someone is God in person is up to our faith to believe it: a faith that is always missing, even mine, for which I cannot complain; instead I can pray.
When trying to write the European constitution there were those who refused to refer to the Christian roots of Europe. Andreotti without confusion observed that, however, the date had to be put, and the date marks the years that separate us from the Christmas of Jesus ...
Many illuminations represent continuity with the light that "enveloped the shepherds" (Luke 2,9) and with the light of the star that guided the Three Kings. So when I see the streets illuminated with particular decorations or the Rinascente palace with a cascade of lights, I think those lights are the continuation of the lights that attract the shepherds and guide the Three Kings: they are not there by chance.
Everyone, shepherds and Magi, bring gifts and we exchange gifts for this. The custom of giving gifts comes from there: we exchange them among ourselves but in reality they are a tribute to the love of the Child. Exchanging gifts is the maximum of the party, it means that we return to our original vocation of love.
The Magi are constant and determined until they reach the goal, the shepherds go "without delay" as Saint Luke says (2,9), that is, in a hurry, just as Maria had gone to find her cousin Elizabeth. This determination and this haste teach me what really matters.
I lived ten beautiful years in Milan and I remember that the most used verb was and is: "run away". I have to run". But where do I run? And what am I running from? Here: the shepherds, the Magi and Mary make me understand what the real haste tends to: what is really worth. Too many times I feel the need to run or distract or have fun: all verbs that allude to detachment from what is around me. Christmas teaches me to see the depth of things, the meaning to which facts and situations allude. The Child is not just a child, gifts are not objects: they are a reflection of my heart; the lights are what should illuminate my distracted mind.
As the Pope observes, the representation of ordinary life scenes in the crib also recalls the divine hidden in my everyday life that I must notice. Above all the Neapolitan cribs are full of taverns, merchandise, scenes of country life, men playing cards, housewives inside the houses that deal with chores, lights that show the very accurate interior of the apartments, superabundant grocery stores, bridges, waterfalls . They are not an escape from what happens in the holy cave but indicate how everyday life is contemporary with the divine, it is not foreign to him.
In turn, the characters surrounding the cave are a lesson for me. They do not think of themselves but emit radiation of love starting with Mary and Joseph. Even the classic character of Benino, the sleeping shepherd, reminds me of my inability to notice the greatness of God's designs and urges me to wake up.
Welcome to the Christmas of a God placed in a manger who asks only for my attention.
I like Christmas and "I like 'or nativity scene".