The appeal of crèches can be seen in France as early as the XVIIth century. In aristocratic and middle class homes, the forerunners of the domestic crèche began to appear in the form of decorated glass-fronted boxes called grottoes or rockeries.
The crèches depicted the Infant Jesus or scenes from the lives of Christ and the saints. These figures were made of wax, bread dough or spun glass and were set in an imaginary landscape of flowers, waterfalls and animals evocative of paradise. The Neapolitan crèches were particularly successful. When Provencal santons appeared in the XVIIIth century, the family crèche became even more widespread and some of them contained up to 40 different characters.
In Quebec, the Christmas crèche was already part of religious traditions from the beginning of New France. Nonetheless, it is only after 1875 that crèches began to appear in houses and become part of family routines. Even before decorated Christmas trees became the custom, the crèche already had pride of place in people’s homes.
The custom of setting up a under the Christmas tree became widespread during the 1930s. Many families built their own small stables to shelter commercially-bought figures. Later still, whole villages made up of little houses spread out around the crèche appeared at the foot of the tree.