My mother has always made our house come alive at Christmas time. Garlands ripe with “pretend” apples, candles of every variety, hand-made ornaments and wreaths, a collection of Santas we add to every year–we relished the fun of decorating the house. Mama knows how to set the scene for celebration.
As a child, she helped me decorate my room with my own little Christmas trappings. A green yarn wreath she made with a pink bow. The little lighted village we displayed on my dresser, tiny plastic houses and a church strung together with lights and the glittery snow fabric she found to put it on. There were tiny dime store plastic snowmen and santas, stockings, Hallmark wall decorations, and a few of the shiny decorative gift packages she used in our living room. Most of those items have made their way into my own holiday decorating, ready for my children to enjoy.
I remember the first Christmas after my parents moved from the house I grew up in. We had such a labor of love finding new places for all our holiday favorites. Sure enough, everything found a “spot,” and a larger house and the adjustments of a changing family made room for new traditions and celebrations just as sweet.
One of the mainstays of our Christmas decorating has been my mother’s nativity scene. I don’t know when or where she got it, but I’m sure she saved up and found just the one that could become a yearly treasure. It includes all the usual characters in the renaissance attire so often seen in manger scenes. The stable is woven together with wooden pieces and is just big enough for the Holy Family. All the other attendees can politely wait outside. Mama always encircled the collection with green garland lit with a small strand of white lights. In the living room on the Duncan Phyfe table my grandmother gave her, the nativity scene was accompanied by one of Grandaddy’s old Bibles–opened to Luke 2 with a red ribbon marking the place. Mama kept the small candle-light lamp that normally resided on the table beside it to light the verses. I remember being so excited as she replaced the bulb with a red one for the holidays. It was the kind of scene that prompted intent looks.
Now I have my own nativity scene, one that’s become a tradition in our house. My Aunt Betty gave is to us, purchased in Gatlinburg, TN on one of our family vacations. I display it on top of our piano with my own set of tiny white lights entwined with green garland. The wood-cut look and aged colors of the design suits us, and I enjoy putting white ribbon, doves and pine cones in place to compliment it. The set did not include an angel, so I choose several from my angel collection each year to sing praises over the babe. My children are mostly enamored by the lights right now. I can see the glow reflected in their excited eyes. They haven’t really started bringing the figurines to life in their minds, but it’s coming. I hope I can create the same feel of wonder and sacred celebration that my mother did.
Why does a simple manger scene inspire such wonder in a child and in me today? The pristine, well-designed figurines in a nicely kept stall and the quiet, attentive animals are probably very unlike those who witnessed the actual night of Jesus’ birth. But, there’s something special about looking into the faces of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. There’s something familiar about turning the shepherds, the three wisemen and the animals so that everyone can get a good view of the tiny Savior. I can hear the detractors, now. The scene most certainly bears little resemblance to the manger audience 2000 years ago. But somehow it moves us.
Perhaps the scene offers a tangible reminder of our God with us. As we look into faces like our own, we see a God to whom we can relate–this God, who related to us on that foretold night in the most basic way. He clothed himself in the flesh He had created and looked up into the eyes of men and women just like me. Emmanuel.
Over the years, I’ve given Mama a collection of nativity scenes, some I’ve purchased and some I’ve created myself. The first was a Native American version with Mary’s precious papoose painted in a Soutwestern blanket. I purchased it on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. My first hand-made version was made from pieces of wood branches painted to represent each character, the knots and bends of the wood mimicing bended knees. Acorns gathered on the first trip to the Great Smoky Montains my (not quite) husband took with our family became another version with the wise men pulling their sleigh of seeds and pebbles to present to the tiny acorn King. The Christmas after our wedding, I gave two scenes: one made from spools of thread and one made from tiny flower pots and leaves. They represented Mama’s creativity in making her wedding dress into my own and my Dad’s labor of love in making the back yard grass finally grow for our reception. The collection of poetry I’ll post in the days following is another nativity scene I created for Mama in the form of a hand-made book.
The “scenes” to come are snapshots of the nativity from the perspectives of those God ordained to view it. They are depictions of how each participant experienced “God with us.” And, yet, they are also my own perspectives. I can relate to each one. They are the ways God has revealed Himself to me (again in new ways) through the rich pageant of life experiences. Perhaps they can inspire your perspectives as well. The scenes are presented in several parts:
SCENE — The Biblical account
SYNTAX — Words or themes
SONG — A nativity perspective presented in verse
SEARCH — Renewed soul-searching reflections
I invite you to come again and read each day leading to Christmas. Celebrate the birth of Jesus. Look intently into the face of the tiny Savior. Wonder as Emmanuel draws near. May God richly bless us with His presence again this Christmas season.