Padre Pio celebrated Christmas with incredible devotion and joy. It was, arguably, his favorite celebration. He wrote to his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina Cerase: "When the Holy Novena begins in honor of the Baby Jesus, it felt as though my spirit were being born again to a new life. I felt as though my heart were too small to embrace all our heavenly blessings. My soul felt as though it were disintegrating in the presence of our God who had become man. How can we not love Him forever with a fervor that never grows stale? Let us open our hearts to the Baby Jesus whose soul was without the stain of sin and we will taste how sweet and suave it is to love Him."
Padre Pio's brother friars recall that he wanted the Christmas crib to be placed opposite the confessional so that he could see it while he administered the sacrament of penance. He would remain in the confessional for hours and hours each day, his gaze fixed on the statue of the Baby Jesus.
This great devotion to the infant Christ was something that he practiced even as a small child. At his home in Pietrelcina, he prepared the crib himself. He would often begin working on it as early as October. While pasturing the family's sheep with friends, he would search for clay to use to fashion the small statues of shepherds, sheep, and the magi. He took particular care in crafting the infant Jesus, making and re-making it continually until he felt he had it just right. The young Francesco (Padre Pio) wanted the crib scene to be as beautiful as possible. He lit the scene with small oil lights crafted from snail shells as there was no electricity in Pietrelcina.
For Padre Pio, every Christmas was an occasion for spiritual renewal. It helped him and encouraged him to nurture within himself that unconditional love for humanity that the occasion symbolized, above all his love for the most humble, the poor and the suffering.
Building the nativity scene together as a family is a beautiful tradition which can be revitalized today, helping us to keep our true focus on the infant Jesus during this holy season.