These living Nativity scenes will make you feel like you were at the first Christmas

DARRAY | Shutterstock

Real people and real animals make these creches come alive.

Click here to launch the slideshow

The act of recreating the Nativity scene is one of the most beloved Christmas traditions around the world. But some communities take this a step further. From Poland to Italy and Spain, Catholic towns around the world spend months to prepare enchanting live Nativity scenes featuring real people and often real animals, too.

The first “live” Nativity scene is believed to have been created in 1233 by St. Francis of Assisi after returning from a trip to the Holy Land where he witnessed the real birthplace of Jesus. Francis realized that believers could better connect with the celebration of Christmas if exposed to the very setting where the joyful event occurred.

And indeed that same reason is what motivates communities the world over to engage with the practice some two thousand years later. As explained by Michelle Miller-Vandevort, a coordinator of the live Nativity at Wyatt Park Christian Church, Missouri, the process of recreating the moment when Jesus was born is an important source of social connection for people who may not otherwise spent time together outside rituals and church services.

Here is a gallery of some of the most striking live Nativity scenes from around the world.