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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Christmas Stories* (Part 1)

Do You See What I See?

When I was about 10 years old, my grandfather, Papa, made a life-size wooden nativity set for my family. He cut and painted the whole thing himself—Mary, Joseph, a manger, and three camels for the Wise Men. The Wise Men themselves were never finished, but we set out the camels every year anyways, one lying down, and two standing up (when they didn’t get blown over by the wind).

It’s an old tradition in my family, pre-dating the wooden nativity, to never set out Baby Jesus until Christmas Eve. An old doll of mine with short, curly hair was kept long after I stopped playing with dolls for the purpose of fulfilling this most important role. Wrapped in a blue cloth, we stored the doll in the garage with the nativity set. There it would stay until we returned home after the Christmas Eve service and placed it in the wooden manger. Except for the year of our Christmas Gift.

That year, we put the nativity set out as always, with the addition of a lighted Angel and a star of Christmas tree lights that my dad was quite proud of. When we arrived back home, the neighborhood was dark except for the glow of the luminaries that lined the streets. As we pulled into our driveway, the headlights of our car illuminated the nativity scene for a brief moment, revealing that the two stubborn camels had once again laid down to rest. And yet, I thought, something else seemed different too.

We got out of the car and my bother and I went to right the camels. And that’s when we saw it. There, under the Christmas-light star, was a Baby, wrapped up in a dish towel in his manger.

It wasn’t until Christmas day that we learned what had happened. Our neighbor’s grand daughter had been over the day before to celebrate Christmas with her grandparents. Our yards are adjacent, and a life-size nativity has a powerful draw when you’re only five. Coming over to investigate, the girl saw that we didn’t have a Baby Jesus. She went back to her grandparents’ house and told them of this problem. Then, she took one of her dolls, wrapped it in the closest thing to swaddling clothes that she could find, and put it in our manger. And that five-year-old girl left her own doll there overnight, just to ensure that Baby Jesus would be there on Christmas morning.

*Disclaimer: While these stories are true, there may be some embellishment (partly because I was pretty young when two of these events happened and had to make some things up to fill in the gaps in my memory).

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