Every year, after Christmas (maybe several months after) it would be gently packed away and carefully stored. And every year, the day after Thanksgiving (or a little sooner), it would be gently unpacked and reverently displayed.
Through the years, they added other rituals to their celebration of Christmas. After a few years a Christmas tree was added and from then on they nearly always had one up, adding a new, special ornament each year (even the year it was a tree I drew that was posted on the wall). Mom loved burning an Advent candle every year and she and I would watch it carefully to be sure to blow it out at the right time. Special foods were added. Lion and lamb decorations joined in. Some years we had an Advent calendar. Events like watching Christmas movies on TV, making popcorn balls and wassail and spending time with friends were all highlights. And more nativity sets joined the crowd, but they never held a place of honor quite like that first one.
My earliest memories of Christmas include that nativity. I remember Mom (and sometimes Dad) setting it up and Mom putting it away. Occasionally it stayed up all year. Over the years, an ear was broken and glued back on, an angel disappeared then reappeared; a horn broke off and wouldn’t stay with glue so it was taped inside the bull, another ear chipped. But always, it was there.
My parents passed away many years ago and now I have the set. My husband and I have many Nativity sets. Some are small, some large, some from other countries. Some we purchased and some were gifts. Some were made by his parents. We treasure them all. Each has something unique that none of the others can match. I would be hard pressed to name a favorite. But, for many years, the day after Thanksgiving, I would gently unpack and reverently display Mom and Dad’s set. And every year, after Christmas (as far into January as I could push it), I would gently pack it away and carefully store it.
I remember Mom and Dad. I remember Christmas and making ornaments and decorating trees and pumpkin pie. I remember Mom’s stories. And I remember what I did not understand then: the Journey to the Christ Child does not start on the day after Thanksgiving or end in January; it is not just for Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Wise Men; it is not packed away in a box to await the telling of the stories once again next year. The journey should be a lifelong adventure. He beckons each of us to journey to Him, and to journey with Him. He is in the stable, but He has also journeyed beyond the stable and the empty tomb. He wants to journey to our hearts, if invited.
You may ask, is there something magical about that almost 70-year-old Nativity that demands reverence and holds so many memories? The answer is simple: No. It is nothing more than clay and water, shaped and fired, and decorated with a slightly blue-green glaze. But they who used sacrifice and skill to make it were also skilled teachers. The “magic” is in the memories made while lessons were taught - unknown to me until years later.
Thanks, Mom and Dad!