Mama would let me set it up on a table, and then spread fluffy white “snow” around the stable and its cast of characters. I cherished each and every piece of that “manger scene,” as we called it back then, but the donkey was my very favorite. I always made sure that adorable long-eared beast had a clear view of the Baby Jesus.
When I was a child, we had a cast-off chipped chalk Nativity scene that had been my great-grandmother’s. Although a couple of the shepherds’ heads had been glued back on, one of the sheep had a toothpick splint to replace a missing leg, and one of the Wise Men was out of scale with the size of the other two, it was my favorite of our Christmas decorations.
The story goes that St. Francis of Assisi, in hopes of encouraging people away from commercialism and back to reverence, created the very first Nativity scene in 1223 to demonstrate that Jesus was born into the world in poverty. Knowing St. Francis’s affection for animals, I suspect he might have been making a point about their importance, too.
Over the years, my grandmother’s old Nativity pieces disappeared, probably donated. But when I realized they were gone, I was crushed.
For the next decade, I searched thrift stores and estate sales until I found another chipped and mismatched group of angels, magicians, shepherds, animals, and holy family. Actually, I ended up with more than one. As I write this column, glue is holding Gaspar’s head on and some of the sheep have gone rogue. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s important to me that my Nativity characters be “assorted” and diverse, even a bit chipped and worn. After all, isn’t that the point? It gives me great joy to see Persians and Jews, rich and poor, young and old, humans, animals, and angels – gather in hope.
Marian Carcache welcomes comments