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Child Jesus (detail), painting by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo

The Child Jesus (also called Divine Infant, Baby Jesus, or Christ Child) represents Jesus from his birth to the age of twelve. At thirteen he was considered to have become adult, in accordance with both the Jewish custom of his own time, and that of most Christian cultures until recent centuries. The Child Jesus has been very frequently depicted in art, from around the third or fourth century onwards, in icons and paintings, sculpture, and all the media available. The most common depictions are of Nativity scenes showing the birth of Jesus, with his mother, Mary, and his legal father Joseph, and depictions of him as a baby with his mother, known as Madonna and Child, of which there are a number of iconographical types in both Eastern and Western traditions. Other scenes from his time as a baby, of his circumcision, Presentation at the temple, the Adoration of the Three Magi, and the Flight to Egypt, are common. Scenes showing his developing years are relatively rare, as these are hardly mentioned in the Gospels. A number of apocryphal texts, the Infancy Gospels grew up with legendary accounts of the intervening period, and these are sometimes shown.

Holy Family

Christ in the Temple by Heinrich Hofmann

This "original nuclear family" symbolized the Holy Trinity to many early Christian believers. They solidified the family unit with such deep spiritual significance that the Holy Family eventually became an integral part of Roman Catholic dogma.

The Scriptures and many apocryphal works were passed down either by word of mouth or through song, and later in works of art. The symbolism of the Child Jesus in art reached its apex during the Renaissance: the holy family was a central theme in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and many other masters

The canonical gospels say nothing of Jesus' childhood between his infancy and the Finding in the Temple at the age of twelve.

Legends

From the 4th century to the Renaissance many stories were passed down concerning Jesus' early childhood, where even as a baby Jesus revealed his powers to protect his parents during their journey to and from Egypt. The majority of these stories were derived from apocryphal books, such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. As the majority of Christians at the time were illiterate, the stories acquired a dark or morbid feel similar to the Brothers Grimm tales, as concern for approval from the Roman Curia began to wane in the later centuries.

These medieval stories often depict Jesus as a fearless and carefree child who innocently gets into mischief that inexorably led to his playmates' demise. The most common one is the cloud story. The child Jesus, wanting to play in the clouds, crawled into the sky on a sunbeam, but all of the playmates who followed him soon lost their faith and fell to their deaths. Another story tells of a child who cursed the channel that supplied water to the pools in which Jesus usually bathed, a tidal wave swept the boy away and cleared the channel. This other child is sometimes known as the "Judas Child."

Some legends relate that these events rather worried the other children's parents, who forbade them to play with Jesus. Another legend relates that once, when the child Jesus arrived in the town plaza to play, parents quickly hid their children in a large kiln-oven for shelter. The child Jesus, naturally well aware of this, inquired about his playmates' whereabouts and was told all the children had left. When he asked what the noise coming from the large oven was he was told that pigs were being cooked. Jesus left and when the parents opened the oven doors, they found (according to which version of the story one heard) either uncooked squealing piglets or roasted children.

The stories created about the activities of the child Jesus were not all gruesome, and detail that even as a baby or child Jesus set out to do the Divine Will of his father, God. Other stories chronicle how even as an infant, Jesus' smile could make the rain or storms end and the sun shine, or could heal the sick. Another story tells of how a baby that was dying was placed in a tub of his bathwater and was brought back to life, and that any child in his presence would not cry or fret.

Oscar Wilde's famous story The Selfish Giant is another legend involving a boy that turns out, at the end of the story, to be the Christ Child. The popular Christmas carol, The Little Drummer Boy. relates how a drummer boy, who has no gift for the newborn Child, plays on his drum, and the Child, seeming to understand, smiles at the boy.

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