The Virgin Mary is a single mother in our nativity set.
She sits in adoration of the Christ child as the three kings and a young shepherd look on. I have no idea where Joseph is. He may have shattered during the great 2007 battle between the nativity icons and my son’s Star Wars figures. I never found Joseph’s remains, but Darth Vader had a suspicious white powder all over his helmet and one of the lambs was found shoved inside R2D2’s body.
I love my nativity set, and I refuse to get a new one. The set, along with all our Christmas decorations and traditions, tell the story of my family. Everything is imperfect, unique and wonderfully mismatched – just like us.
There is no theme for our Christmas tree. We don’t have a color-coordinated set of artistic globes or fancy ribbons. Every item on that tree holds a memory. The lights are multi-colored because we couldn’t agree on a single hue for illumination. The limbs hold a collection of the kids’ sports medals, handmade photo ornaments, armless clay snowmen we made together (they had arms at one time), and silly mementos from the places we’ve lived. Elvis hangs in memory of the years we spent in Memphis, Mardi Gras beads drape a few limbs in celebration of my husband’s New Orleans roots, and a flying pig commemorates the smelly time we spent living down the road from a pork processing center in North Carolina. We also hide a glass pickle in the branches because someone told us German families had to do that. Legend says that the person who finds the pickle is supposed to have good fortune in the next year, and since I hid the silly thing, I have a major advantage in this contest. (Sadly, the pickle story is a just a clever marketing gimmick designed to sell pickle ornaments.)
Faith is a huge part of our Christmas observance. Both of my children accepted Christ at the age of six when they attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service. For those of you who aren’t familiar with evangelical jargon, the term simply means they realized what Jesus did for them and wanted Him to be a part of their lives forever. My husband grew up in a Baptist household, and I first embraced faith during college when I met an amazing campus priest who introduced me to a very real and loving God. The Baptist Christmas Eve services are beautiful, but I adore the true majesty of the King’s birthday through a Catholic Mass. The entire family went last year. It took a bit of coaching, but they did well with all the ups, downs and responses; however, the “greet one another with a holy kiss” section required some reassurance.
Although some Christian families may not include Santa Claus in their holiday, we embrace the example of Nicholas, a generous saint committed to charity and protection of children. It was his story that led to the legend of Santa Claus and the Rankin-Bass monopoly of holiday specials. Christmas Eve is not complete until we check out the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) website that tracks Santa’s whereabouts. My kids, now know-it-all young tweens, still run outside to see who can spot Rudolph’s nose when Santa enters the western hemisphere. Cookies and milk are left out for the big guy, and the reindeer get whatever fruit or vegetable is in the crisper. The kids also leave a thank you letter for the Man in Red because their obsessive-compulsive mother is a stickler for good manners.
Our Christmas will never appear in an edition of “Southern Living” magazine, but that’s okay. Christmas was never supposed to look like a scene staged by interior decorators; it was an ordinary manger complete with hay, animals and the sweet promise of new life. It was never supposed to follow a script of carefully orchestrated parties and picture perfect photos; it was announced by a star that led both wealthy magi and humble shepherds to witness and share their memories about an event that would forever change human history. Today’s Christmas is a reminder of the importance of the love and hope that first appeared more than 2,000 years ago.
It’s also a reminder that small children should never be given access to ceramic saints.
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