The Liturgy Office regularly receives questions concerning church décor and the use of manger scenes during Advent. Bearing in mind that the Advent season is distinct from Christmas in its focus and manner of celebration, the USCCB’s Built of Living Stones notes that “since the Christmas season begins with the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and ends with the Baptism of the Lord, the placement and removal of Christmas decorations should coincide with these times” (125). Thus, manger scenes and other decorations usually associated with Christmas (e.g., red and white poinsettias, Christmas trees with multicolored lights, red bows, etc.) should be reserved for use during the Christmas season only.
The practice of displaying figures depicting the birth of Christ has its origins in the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi, who constructed the first Christmas crèche for Christmas Eve in 1223. Already by the fourth century, however, representations of the birth of Christ were painted as wall decorations; these depictions were sometimes adorned with quotes from the prophets Isaiah (1:3) and Habakkuk (3:2), which speak of the Messiah being born amongst animals in a manger.
In our own time, it is a very popular devotion to display a manger in parish churches during the Christmas season. If this takes place, the scene should be not be placed in the main part of the sanctuary, but somewhere that is more easily accessible and set aside for private prayer and devotional acts of the faithful (Book of Blessings, 1544). The Nativity scene should be blessed only once each season, typically either at the first Mass on Christmas Eve, or just prior to it. Since the crèche should not be erected before the start of the Christmas season, there does not seem to be a need to keep the crib empty and without a figure of the infant Christ for any period of time. The Nativity scene may remain as a place of devotion throughout the entirety of the Christmas season, until the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord (January 12, 2020).