A special memory shared by a friend:
My family had a very simple nativity scene that my mother set up every year right after Thanksgiving When my daughters were young, I wanted to carry on this tradition and didn’t seem to get around to it, but one year a bad case of the “I want…” afflicted my young girls. Too much of the secular concept of Christmas had invaded our household. Thinking back to my mother’s tradition and the church’s tradition from which she drew her inspiration, I instituted strictly following Advent, with daily readings and new twist. We put an EMPTY nativity scene on the mantel. A few days into Advent I added a cow. A couple of days later, I added a donkey and some sheep with their shepherd. The girls were always asleep when I did this, so they were young enough to wonder how these people and animals had appeared. As the story of Christmas grew in our daily readings, so did the number of people and animals at the stable. No angel. No Mary. No Joseph. Definitely no wisemen. No star. The wise men appeared first in our study and they began a trek around the house, which symbolized their journey to the stable in search of the King. Each day, I moved them and each day the girls had to find them. Mary and Joseph finally arrived at the stable shortly before Christmas Eve, but no Jesus. The figurines stared lovingly into the empty manger, waiting, just like we were. I didn’t even put up the Christmas tree. Christmas Eve arrived. I had done minimal shopping and none of it with my daughters in tow. We went to church on Christmas Eve and the girls were put to bed. While they slept, I set up the tree and decorated it. Baby Jesus was placed in the manger with the angel and star. The wise men were moved close, but not yet arrived. Since we were sticking to the liturgical calendar, they wouldn’t arrive until January 6th and we would be celebrating Christmas from Christmas Eve throughout the Christmas of the liturgical year. On Christmas morning, my daughters woke to a lit tree, a full stable, and a true representation of the arrival of the Light of the World. I’ve never regretted instituting this tradition. They were wild with anticipation for the coming of Christ and not just for the coming of secular presents. This tradition has grown in layers of meaning over the years. One year, one of the girls received a tiny stuffed camel at school and asked if it would be okay for the camel to rest at the stable to wait for Jesus. Obviously, the camel took up residence. The impact that reasserting the meaning of Christmas had on my family became incredibly clear the first Christmas after my divorce from their father. I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas, but the first request from my now teenage daughters was that we set up the Nativity set and see just how our traveling wise men and Holy Family would function in their new setting. It was clear that Jesus Christ truly is Emmanuel, God With Us, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances.