My misguided Christmas mission, or how I met the Queen of Nativities

Faith & Inspiration

Editor's note: This article originally was written in 1996, and the "baby" is now a teenager.

I don't mind telling you I'm never an early riser, especially not with a baby who's a fitful sleeper, so I wasn't surprised that day to find someone else had beaten me to it. I wasn't even all that disappointed. This was, after all, an after-Christmas sale, and the whole store was the kind of mess we Americans have come to expect of that post-holy period. I figured if I looked hard enough I would still find what I was looking for-just not where it should have been. And behold, I was right.

But I was just about to give up and buy something different until I saw her . . . the Queen of Nativities, holding court at the front of the center aisle. A tall, well-dressed woman flanked by her elderly parents, the Queen stood surveying four or five renditions of the blessed scene and discussing their finer and less fine points rather loudly. I developed an immediate irritation with her, as she was holding my nativity captive, this arrogant woman who wanted everyone to know how she defined good taste.

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Of course I hadn't paid for it yet, but I think you'll agree it was my nativity. You see, we have a daughter, my husband and I. She was 9 months old for her first Christmas, and in our strained budget talks we had decided that she was our "forever" gift, so perfect (well, maybe "delightful" is a better word; she was, after all, a baby, with a low sleep capacity and some peculiar eating habits, even as babies go) it wouldn't matter if either of us ever got any kind of Christmas gift again.

What we hadn't decided was how to communicate the season to our little heart-snatcher. Of course, Santa would take some appropriate action upon hearing she had been added to his list this year. Teaching her the "holly day" Christmas would be easy, but to tell you the truth, we really didn't consider right then how tough the "holy day" part would be.

It was a ticklish issue; we knew many fine folk who had decided just to ban Santa and glittery stuff and anything else that looked out of place in a Bethlehem stable. We, on the other hand, thought that particular stable could handle a considerably larger crowd than the inn had managed to do so many years back. The question, it seemed to us, had more to do with perspective.

But how to achieve the right balance? As usual, we didn't take time to think things through, and as usual, this holiday tipped the scales on the holly side. For the future, we decided a nativity scene in our living room would help us keep the holy uppermost in our minds. And after-Christmas sales offered the perfect opportunity for me to find one at a bargain price.

I had spotted a set I wanted for myself even before Christmas, but didn't buy it because it seemed overpriced and we did, after all, need to stretch our dollars to cover a few other things. But with higher motives to inspire my shopping, I decided this one really would be perfect. Big enough to place somewhere high and away from curious hands where it could remain a thing of beauty instead of getting knocked into a heap of rubble on the floor. Though the colors were tasteful, the wise men sported jewels sparkly enough to fascinate a child; the animals looked real, the baby cherubic, the parents serene. Of course, when I headed straight to its original place on the shelf that sale day, it was gone.

Which brings us back to the Queen. In retrospect, I realize that a few hundred other people could have taken my nativity home before she ever grabbed it, so late was my arrival and naive my belief that my intentions would be rewarded for their sheer goodness. But she was the one. And what really rankled was that her appearance suggested a woman who hardly needed to be scavenging for a deal in a bargain-store-garden-center-turned-after-Christmas-paradise/disaster-area.

I had a few words for her, and they weren't "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." But this was hardly the time to be petty. I had a daughter to bring up right in a world gone very wrong, and I was convinced that this nativity would be just the kind of teaching tool to make my job easier.


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