The Manger. A symbol of Christmas. Or a symbol of my childhood. For as long as I can remember, every December my mother decorated the mantle above our fireplace with greens, candles and a manger. It was simply made with a lean-to like quality. Inside my mother placed a cow and a sheep on top of craft hay purchased at Hobby Lobby. She delicately place Mary and Joseph on one end of the mantle and the shepherd with his sheep on the other. For 23 days, my sisters and I alternated moving M and J toward the mantle, signifying their journey from Galilee to Bethlehem (for the census…Caesar Augustus. Welcome to Catholicism 101, kids). Long story short, M and J have trouble finding housing – so they humbly end up in the manger on the mantle. Mind you, we are working with a nativity scene manufactured in China in the 1970s. Mary’s hands are missing, baby Jesus looks like a grown man…it’s mildly disturbing.
Cut to Christmas morning…
All my sisters and I wanted were our presents. Naturally. But – before we could begin, we had to well, reenact the birth of Jesus Christ. We were not a theatrical family, so this isn’t the Christmas pageantry you may be envisioning. Instead my oldest sister would read the corresponding chapter in the bible while my other sister and I would take our respective nativity pieces and place them at the scene when prompted. I, as the youngest, was baby Jesus. And my other sister was the Angel. When all the players were in place, we could commence with opening presents. You should know that this continues to this day – although now we’re less serious about it and we typically dissolve into fits of laughter at my sister’s interpretation of the Angel’s visit to the shepherd and his sheep.
It doesn’t end there. My parents were also firm believers in celebrating Epiphany. You know, when the Three Kings, the Magi, etc. come to give really strange gifts to baby Jesus. My sisters and I would make paper crowns out of newspaper and parade around the living room while singing “We Three Kings” as my mother accompanied us on the piano. We ALSO got gifts. It was a win-win situation.
I am no longer a practicing Catholic. To my mother’s dismay, I abandoned the faith the minute I left for college. To be honest, I don’t think I ever really subscribed to it in the first place. But I have a fond appreciation for what my parents shared with us: a story of humility, life, generosity and hope.