A Christmas tradition for the Franciscan friars and the local community in Cochrane, AB, is the Greccio Christmas pageant at the beginning of Advent. Just as last year, many people from Cochrane and Calgary came to Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre for this joyful celebration. It included rides in a horse-drawn wagon, hot refreshments with home-baked cookies, a bonfire, and a live Christmas pageant accompanied by music.
Friar Dan Gurnick narrated the Gospel story that this Christmas pageant remembers, and he acknowledged that it was St. Francis of Assisi who started this popular tradition in the Italian town of Greccio in the year 1223.
“For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.”
(Saint Francis of Assisi, in “The Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano,” Book 1, Chapter 30)
Friar Dan explained “not only did Francis aim to recreate the events of Bethlehem, he also wanted to involve onlookers in the celebration. The goal was to arouse in them a deeper, hope-filled and Christ-centred faith; a more ardent devotion to the one person believers call ‘Lord.’” In this way, the Christmas story continues to be handed on from generation to generation so that we can experience the humility and humanity of the way by which the Word of God came into the world.