Saint Francis of Assisi performed Midnight Mass in Greccio, Italy, on Christmas Eve 1223 in front of a life-sized nativity scene (crib or creche) built by Giovanni Velita, with live animals.
This is sometimes credited as the first nativity play.
However, more formal nativity plays have featured in Christian worship since the medieval mystery plays.
The twelfth to nineteenth pageants of the 48-cycle York Mystery Plays dealt with the nativity story. In Germany, the Weihnachten services on Christmas Eve include a children’s mass called Weihnachtsgeschichte, which features a Krippenspiel (crib play).
In Belgium, puppet theatres often put on variations on the nativity play in the weeks before Christmas.
The play usually depicts the Massacre of the Innocents which occurred after the birth of Jesus.