When I was a little girl I didn’t have a Christmas tree to decorate, or even electric candles to plug in at the front windows.
But I did have a favorite getting-ready-for-Christmas ritual. Right after (U.S.) Thanksgiving each year, Mom and I put together the Sears Nativity Set, then displayed it on top of the record player.
For most of the year the pressed board stable and painted ceramic figures rested in a box in the attic, each nestled in their own little compartments for safekeeping.
But the day came when Mom and I fetched that box from Sears, Roebuck and Company down from the attic.
First Mom set up the stable, then I placed baby Jesus in his own tiny manger, with Mary and Joseph watching from behind. After that I hung the angel from its special hook, overlooking the scene. Then the shepherds arrived, along with their dog and a couple sheep. Next I carefully arranged the Wise Men, one kneeling in adoration, the other two standing, offering frankincense and myrrh while the camels waited nearby.
Finally came the star – just a yellow bulb dangling from a star-shaped hole at the back of the stable. But when I plugged in that bulb, the whole nativity scene was bathed in pale light. To an image-starved child it was wonderful. I spent hours looking at it or moving the characters around, letting them tell their stories. Through most of my childhood, a windup music box attached to the stable also played Silent Night endlessly.
As a young adult, I claimed that manger scene. I carefully set it up it each year and placed it at a prominent spot in my own home. Of course we had a Christmas tree also, and candles burning all over the place.
Yet I kept that nativity set until well into my 50s. I liked to use the figures as props at a local nursing home where I told the Christmas story. The residents woke up and gently touched the figures, their faces glowing.
Then one Sunday I displayed the manger scene in the pulpit area at church. Children cruised by to look at the figures and to handle them.
A museum curator in our midst became quite agitated. “Do you know how much these vintage sets are worth?” he asked. “They’re not children’s toys!”
I realized that the figures were getting chipped in a few places, so I decided to put the set in the silent auction at our local thrift shop, before it looked worse.
Yet I miss that dear old nativity set from my childhood. I’ve found a set with the “right” angel on the internet, and another set where the humans and animals look accurate. But I haven’t found an exact replica of “my” set.
Through “my nativity set,” I entered the Story and made it my own. Residents of a long-term care facility entered the Story and made it their own.
That’s one reason I’m a cheerleader for children’s Christmas pageants in churches. I hope that via words and music and actions and costumes children will enter the Story and claim it as their own. I hope the Christmas story will touch little ones in a deeper way than the mall Santas and the canned music everywhere.
I hope that on Christmas Eve children and adults of all ages will sing in calm wonder in the glow of candlelight, as we enter the Story and claim it once more as our own.
Questions for Reflection:
- Which getting-ready-for-Christmas ritual from your childhood or earlier adulthood has continued to nourish your spirit?
- By what means do you or your children or your grandchildren enter the Story of Jesus’ birth?
Next week: TBA