I'm not a purist, though. From Precious Moments nativities where everyone, including the wise men, are children, to the Peanuts version with Linus and Lucy and Woodstock in the manger, I love them all.
The standard, though, has always been a traditional set like the one my parents had. I really liked that one. Each Christmas, every plaster of paris character was handled with such care that setting up the manger scene was practically as holy as the baby’s actual birth. I was nearly grown and married before they trusted me enough to put the shepherds in the stable.
So, of course I passed on the tradition of fear and mistrust years later when we finally got our own fragile nativity set. Finally, after I saw he was using both hands to arrange the Holy Family, I let my husband help with the display.
So it makes me pretty happy that my grown children and their families love crèches, too. Plus, it makes Christmas shopping pretty easy. Every time I see a unique manger scene, I buy it in duplicate, wrap it up and give it to my daughter and daughter-in-law.
Last year, I found a homemade wooden crèche cut with a jigsaw into puzzle pieces that rested inside a wooden frame. When stood on end and emptied of the puzzle pieces, the frame became a stable and the pieces represented each nativity character.
The grandbabies loved it. It was safe, it was educational, and it was compact. But it was not completely kid proof.
“Will’s not allowed to put anything in the garbage can anymore,” my six-year-old granddaughter told me last week. Her two-year-old brother is working on his fine motor skills, as well as Cause and Effect experiments. You gotta admire a toddler with a penchant for cleaning house, though.
“Why not?” I asked, putting away dishes from the dishwasher.
“Because we think he threw Mary in the trash,” she said casually.
I nearly choked on a sugarplum.
For some reason, her matter-of-fact statement cracked me up. Still, that just doesn’t seem like a nice way to treat the mother of Jesus. I considered the sublimely ridiculous and realized that at least he threw her away after the incarnation. But Allie was still talking.
“And we broke the head off another Mary last week,” she said, chomping on some walnuts.
“Rough day on the Mary’s around your house, huh?” I said with a twinkle and another barely smothered chuckle.
“Yeah,” she answered. “Juliet broke a leg on one of the donkeys, too,” she added. “And a wing got broken off an angel.” She took a drink of milk.
“Wow,” I responded. “It’s amazing our Savior survived with you guys around.”
Allie’s eyes grew big and she nodded in solemn agreement.
So, I got to thinking. Since it sounded like there were some gaps in the Brady family's manger scenes, maybe I could help out.
The next day, my husband and I headed over to my favorite antique store during its Christmas extravaganza. I was on a spiritual mission and, in no time at all, found exactly what I was looking for—an entire display of random characters from the Christmas story. There were enough Mary’s to stand by Joseph for at least a couple more weeks, plenty of two-winged angels to fill the celestial choir, and an odd assortment of shepherds.
Most of the tags on the pieces labeled the characters along with the prices. I guess that was to prevent anyone from mistaking a wise man for Mary’s betrothed. It seemed unnecessary to me until one little statue caught my eye. I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be Joseph or a shepherd or one of the three kings. The truth was he looked a lot like a Buddhist monk. But there he was, standing right in the middle of a bunch of Josephs and Mary's. Even the vendor didn’t know where this character belonged, and finally just wrote on the price tag, “Nativity Guy.”
I kept the tag. I had to. All these years, I never knew we were missing such a key player in the Christmas Story as the “Nativity Guy.”
I wrapped up the spare manger people, put them in a Christmas box, and gave them to our daughter’s family this morning for Christmas. I knew she’d really be happy with our thoughtful gift.
I’m a little worried, though. It turns out it’s not that hard to find a new Virgin Mary or the whole wise man entourage.