A nativity scene may be used to describe any depiction of the Nativity of Jesus in art, but in the sense covered here, also called a crib or manger in the UK and crèche in France (meaning “crib” or “manger” French), it means a three-dimensional commercial or folk art depiction of the birth or birthplace of Jesus, either sculpted or using two-dimensional (cut-out) figures arranged in a three-dimensional setting.
After his return to Italy from a voyage to Egypt and Acre in 1220, St Francis of Assisi introduced three-dimensional nativity scenes. Some accounts state he used statues or costumed people, but Thomas of Celano, biographer of Francis tells how he only used a straw-filled manger (feeding trough) set between a real ox and donkey. According to Thomas, it was beautiful in its simplicity with the manger acting as the altar for the Christmas Mass. Francis’s first biographer, Brother Tommaso da Celano, says that Francis was merely emulating what he had seen elsewhere in previous years when, in 1223, he asked his friend Giovanni Velita, a nobleman from the nearby town of Greccio, to construct a nativity scene, consisting of the straw-filled manger, ox and donkey, in a cave near the town of Greccio, for a Christmas Eve mass at which Francis preached.
I purchased this nativity at a wonderful store called Jackalope in Santa Fe, New Mexico several years ago. I believe it was made in Mexico.