Michelle Martin

A Nativity story

Sunday, December 28, 2014

As we pass Christmas and cruise toward Epiphany, most of the Christmas decorations in our house start to disappear. The Christmas tree with its lights and hundreds of ornaments usually comes down around New Year’s Day. We cling to the tradition of a real tree, and although we try not to put it up too soon and water it regularly, it’s becoming (more of) a fire hazard after two or three weeks.

The stockings go in the box with the Christmas tree skirt, maybe because both were made by my mother, so they usually get put away at the same time. Miscellaneous decorations also start to get moved aside as real life takes over from holiday time, although, truth be told, there are several that seem to get left up each year. They go with construction paper bats from Halloween that still hang in the back porch.

But not the Nativity scenes. Those stay out at least until Epiphany, because otherwise, how would the three Wise Men get there? Usually they stay out longer, because in addition to being lovely in their own right, the scenes double as toys and as teaching tools. What child, after spending time arranging the people and animals in the stable, can’t picture the action in the Nativity story in Luke’s Gospel?

Two of the sets on our coffee table this year were actually made as toys, one a blocky wooden version and the other the plastic Fisher-Price Little People set, which my aunt gave to Caroline for her first Christmas. The big set is a Fontanini crèche, received from my grandmother the first Christmas after we were married, with new figures each year for several years after that.

While it is far more detailed than the toy sets, the figures are also some kind of plastic and well nigh unbreakable. So when the Nativity sets came upstairs with the other decorations, I helped Teresa get everything out of the box and asked her to take care of setting them up.

She did a marvelous job, centering the crib with Mary and Joseph to either side in each scene, animals and shepherds ranged around, Wise Men approaching from the edge.

Within a week or two, it was a little messier. The two toy sets had merged a bit, swapping some figures, and some non-Nativity Little People had appeared to adore the newborn king. A few days later, the Fontanini figures were also visiting their neighbors.

So when I had the chance to visit Resurrection Sister Virginia Ann Wanzek and see her collection of crèches, I brought Teresa with me, figuring she would enjoy seeing so many versions of the same but different scene. She did like them, and Sister Virgina Ann was welcoming and kind and allowed her to look and even to touch some of the less fragile ones.

Some included just the Holy Family, some had the shepherds and animals and Wise Men, some were whole towns. But all of them told the story of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when Teresa asked me on our way out, “How old will Jesus turn this year?”