Dogs find way into Nativity scene
By Ask Ollie Email questions to email@example.com December 21, 2012 3:52PM
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:29AM
Dear Ollie: It’s the Christmas season and my family and I went to see a lighted Nativity scene staged by one of our local churches.
I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the festivities because I couldn’t sniff the sweet smell of food anywhere.
However, when I heard some spitting noises and a distinct baying, I peered out the car’s rear window and saw two real critters — a camel and a dairy cow. Really, what are they doing at a Nativity re-enactment? Then, a lone chicken wandered onto the grounds. I was shocked at that sight — as were the actors playing the three wise men and two shepherds huddling near the manger.
If there are going to be animals at the Nativity scene — and I’m OK with that — why not the family dog?
Lenny, a Dyer Cairn Terrier
Dear Lenny: Is this a joke?
Seeing poultry at a Nativity scene is enough to blow anyone’s mind, including yours.
You can blame St. Francis of Assisi, who is credited with staging the first Nativity scene in 1223, for the popularity of Nativity scenes over centuries. The first Nativity had a manger with hay and two live animals — an ox and an ass — standing inside a cave in the Italian village of Greccio.
Within a couple of centuries of this inaugural display, Nativity scenes spread throughout Europe. Like anything, they got bigger as more people and animals were added to the event. Sometimes entire villages paid tribute to the birth of Jesus.
I have heard it said that the familiar cast of characters we see today, namely the three wise men and the shepherds together at the birth of Christ is not biblically accurate. And nowhere in the Bible are donkeys, oxen, cattle or other domesticated animals mentioned in conjunction with Jesus’ birth.
Early live Nativity scenes took their cues more from religious art than from scripture, wrote author Murray Bodo, in his 1988 book “Francis, the Journey and the Dream” about the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Bodo wrote that the artists of the Tuscan Renaissance period defined our impressions of the Nativity scene today. Gentile da Fabriani added horses to his canvas. Sandro Botticelli painted angels. Bartolo di Fredi even added sheep to his version of the Nativity scene.
My personal favorite, Duccio, painted in the bottom right-hand corner of his Nativity panel a strange creature that looks suspiciously like a dog to me. This famous work of art hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
I’m sure you’re familiar with Dan Brown’s best seller “The DaVinci Code.” Readers of this book found magnifying glasses for an examination of Leonardo DaVinci’s painting “The Last Supper.” The entire book was about religious code.
I am a simple dog with a simple code of my own. Follow this: If you take the names of the animals that appear in the Nativity scene and spell them backward you have xo, ssa, lemac, peehs and god.
Brown might argue that dog is a code word for god and the little guy in the corner of Duccio’s painting is a dog. Having said this, I’m doubly sure no artist anywhere is credited with painting a nekcihc in the Nativity scene. but a dog or god is surely present.