As you may have gathered, I didn’t grow up with stories of Santa, watchful elves or sleighs pulled by reindeer. Yes, I remember sitting on Santa’s lap at my dad’s company Christmas party and I saw most of the Christmas animated shows. But that wasn’t the culture of our home. Mom decorated the tree, JUST SO. Our share of the decorating went into setting up the nativity scene.
Delicately we would pull the home made manger out of storage, careful not to lose any of the straw Grandpa had so fastidiously glued to the roof and floor. Next were the boxes of all the figurines, Fontanini, collected over many years. Wrapped in tissue, yellowed with time, were the camels, cows and sheep. With renewed delight, I would take out the three kings, tracing with my fingers the folds of their rich-looking garments. There were the lowly shepherds, the angel, Joseph. Mary with her tilted head and wide spread hands, presenting to us her infant son.
Setting up the manger every Christmas was a quiet, contemplative moment, even when I was a small child. The squabbling with my siblings, the whining over chores or complaints of winter boredom stopped. Placing each figurine in their place, turned toward the infant king, I would listen to Mom or Dad read the nativity story from the Bible. Once set, we would sit, sip a cup of cocoa and look at the scene or stare at the twinkling lights on the tree.
Many years ago I stopped going to Mass. Between living in a city without a car and being in love with a man who didn’t care much for the church, my faith took a back seat to the life I chose to live. But every year, as carols start to play on the radio, wreaths deck the walls and halls and annoying Lexus commercials are on constantly, I long for those traditions of setting the nativity scene.
Next year Maddy will be four. I hope it will be a good year to start traditions of our own. And I pray for the words I will need to begin the conversation about faith.
Thank you MamaKat for this writing prompt. I’ve wanted to write down these thoughts, recall some of these memories, have a contemplative moment in the midst of the madness of shopping, deadlines, and travel.