When I was in New York for Christmas, I cruised through St Patrick’s Cathedral and visited their Nativity scene. I had read earlier that the scene featured a large dog, and sure enough, there was a big dog looming behind the manger. The rector of the Cathedral is apparently a dog-lover and was the one who placed it there.
I have always had mixed feelings about dogs in Nativity scenes. If they are just there, as sheepdogs or incidental figures, fine; but I have seen a rather alarming tendency to highlight the dog in recent years. Americans are positively goofy on the subject of dogs, and this seems to have spilled even into Christmas devotions.
You can see the dog in this picture, sitting behind the manger (which is still empty because the photo was taken before Christmas). The figures are German, although I’m not sure about the dog, since it is a later addition. It’s even bigger than the sheep and seems to be the most important figure in the scene.
Below is the Nativity scene at the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine (as beautifully redone this year by Cathedral priest Fr. Jeff Johnson and John Breuer, member of the plant staff). There is a dog in this one, too, but it’s a dog the way I think it should be, docilely accompanying a shepherd. Because the dog is behind the shepherd, it’s a little hard to see. Focus on the kneeling shepherd in the foreground, and you can see the dog’s head just beyond his knee.
It’s a small, obedient dog, just the way it should be. Good doggie.