Michelle Martin

Where’s the baby?

Thursday, December 14, 2023

When do you put the baby Jesus in your Nativity scene?

Do you include the infant in the manger when you set the Nativity scene up? If you set it up before Christmas Eve, that is. Or do you hold off and let the Christ child make his grand entrance on Christmas morning?

We’ve always been a Christmas morning family.

It might be because the Nativity scene has stayed up in our living room all year for the past several years. It made everyone sad to put it away, and no one wanted to do it, so the Nativity scene now lives on top of a bookshelf in front of the window, complete with a shiny gold plastic star of Bethlehem that hangs from the window blinds.

So every year, when we pull out all the Christmas decorations, I quietly remove the figure of the baby and put it away. The last thing I do before going to bed Christmas Eve — after presents are set beneath the tree and stockings are filled, after I’ve taken at least a bite from the cookies left for Santa and fed the carrots left for Santa’s reindeer to the dog — is to put baby Jesus back in the manger.

Note: My youngest child is 13. She hasn’t believed in Santa Claus since she was 5. And this only applies to the main Nativity scene. The other ones that we’ve acquired through the years, the ones that only come out at Christmas, stay together. Especially since they include a plastic and wooden sets made for preschoolers to play with; what fun is playing with a Nativity scene without baby Jesus?

That’s the way it has always worked. But last year, we narrowly averted tragedy. I lost baby Jesus.

I took the figure from the manger after the tree was up and decorated, the day we hung stockings and set out other decorations. I put it in my sweater pocket. And the next time I thought about the figure several days later, I had no idea what I had done with it.

Baby Jesus was no longer in my sweater, or in the hamper, or in the washing machine. He wasn’t in the hiding place I usually put him, or in my nightstand, or any other place that made sense to me. I prayed to St. Anthony, but help did not appear to be forthcoming.

So I did what people do these days: I went online and ordered a new one. I didn’t want to wait too long for the missing one to turn up, because I needed to order it in time for Christmas. In due course, it came, and I went to put the box with the other boxes we have saved for the Nativity figures — where I found the first baby Jesus, put away for safekeeping.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, except, perhaps, that Jesus is always with us, even when we can’t find him, even when he seems to be completely gone. And if we ask, he will come to us again. And, just maybe, find a way to remind us that he was here the whole time.



  • christmas
  • family life