Away in a manger, family tradition

Growing up, nothing was as magical as Christmas in our family. As the youngest of all the cousins – by several years – I have no shame in telling you that my mother’s six sisters spoiled me rotten. Is hot pink your favorite color? No problem! You’re into Barbies? No problem! 

As the years passed, however, these memories of wild childhood acquisition faded, and the traditions of truly celebrating Christ-mass remained. Christmas Eve was for extended family; Christmas Day was for immediate family. At the center of our celebration each year was our stable and its nativity set.

My dad loved to work with wood and build things in his spare time, and my mom loved antiques and weathered barn boards. These loves led my dad to make my mom a nativity stable one year. A stable much larger than our old store-bought one, so thus began our quest to better fill that manger with shepherds who came to worship baby Jesus, animals who were the manger’s first occupants, and items that would have seemingly been in the manger when Mary and Joseph arrived.

Our original Holy Family, Wise Men, a pair of sheep, and an Angel were made of paper mache in Italy. They journeyed to the new stable, and were soon joined by 1960s plastic figures from W.T. Grant, also made in Italy and of the same scale. As we set up the scene each year, mom would tell me stories of her childhood manger scene, and how her mother wouldn’t put Baby Jesus in place until late Christmas Eve. The wise men had to wait until Epiphany on January 6 to make their appearance. Fortunately for me, my mom didn’t keep with those traditions, lovely though they were.

When I set the manger up now, those memories of picking out figures from bins at Grant’s, placing the ox on top of crumpled paper like mom did so he can see above his stall, laughing that a couple of ducks somehow appeared in the desert, and then scattering the same plastic straw mom used bring back happy memories of our family Christmases. I’ll be passing this manger set down to my niece soon, and she will have her own memories of helping her grandmother set it up before it came to me. May each of you have a truly Blessed Christmas with memories that truly last a lifetime.

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