Living crèches date back to medieval France when liturgical dramas, mysteries and plays were performed originally in
churches and later just outside in the church porch or church square. The first church crèches appeared in the XVth
century in Italy and in the XVIth century in France. Their mannered and stilted form replaced the theatrical style of
The introduction of printing brought about a revolution in European culture, with books making the Bible and Christmas carols more accessible.
Christmas carols are the most widespread feature of the popular celebration of the Nativity. From the XVIth century, they could be found in every province. Because they were not part of the Latin liturgy, they were first published in regional languages and were circulated by peddlers. Many Christmas editions of the Bible are to be found in the literature of peddlers of the XVIIth to the XIXth centuries. Peddlers also sold engravings depicting the Nativity as well as broadsheets of carols.
Christmas, the first in a cycle of twelve days, set the tone for the celebrations to come. The cycle of festivities started
with Christmas and ended with Epiphany.
In Canada, family, friends and neighbours welcomed one another after the evening meal to sing, tell stories, dance and have plenty of fun to the happy strains of tunes played by violinists, accordionists, guitarists and others. These family festivities not only marked the birth of the Saviour, but also signalled the end of the long period of abstinence and penitence which the Church imposed during Advent.
French missionaries and colonists brought the celebration of the Nativity to New France. It is to these first arrivals,
therefore, that Amerindians and Francophones owe the tradition of Midnight Mass with its carols or old "noels", some
of which date back to the Middle Ages.
For Anglophones, whether Protestant or Catholic, the celebration of this religious festival was already part of their habits and customs when they arrived in this country in the XVIIIth century.