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The term "Nativity Drama" is used by Wellesz in his discussion of the troparion hymns in the Christmas liturgy of Byzantine Rite Churches, from Sophronius in the seventh century. Goldstein argues that the label "drama" is misleading, that the troparia are more akin to an oratorio than a play, and that the form is not a precursor of later more decidedly dramatic forms.
Saint Francis of Assisi performed Midnight Mass in Greccio on Christmas Eve 1223 in front of a life-size 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 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 Latin America pastorelas ("shepherd's plays") are performed in many local communities. These were imported during Spanish colonization of the Americas but are no longer common in Spain. They recount the story of the shepherds travelling to worship the newborn Christ, augmenting the Biblical text with apocryphal events, indigenous beliefs, regional features, anachronisms, satire and buffoonery. Each community's play evolves into a distinctive tradition.
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