The Nativity Scene
Growing up Catholic, Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, is a big deal. We have an advent wreath and you light candles and say prayers every night. We’d go to church where the focus is on preparing ourselves for the gift of Jesus. My family even had a birthday cake for Jesus to make sure we focused on him as much as Santa and gifts.
My house also had a large nativity scene that sat on our piano. I got to set it up every year. It felt like the most important task. I had to place the Wise Men, shepherds, animals, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus just right. It would always take me a while of moving the characters around to get them in the perfect places. Over the years we’ve added numerous nativity scenes. I’ve honestly lost count. We probably have at least 10. That includes the huge light up one for the front lawn.
At some point as a young child I became curious. If we are so focused on preparing for the birth of Jesus, why is He in the nativity? Technically He hasn’t been born yet. That’s what we’re waiting for. I was a very verbal and inquisitive child so naturally I asked, a lot. No one seemed to have a valid answer. I was pretty much just told that He’s part of the scene so that’s why He’s there. It made no logical sense to me. He shouldn’t be there yet.
Eventually my mother caved. Arguing with me was probably tiresome. I’m sure it still is. The next year I was allowed to set up the nativity scenes without baby Jesus in them. It wasn’t really a problem except for the one on the lawn. People kept knocking on the door to tell us someone stole the baby Jesus. I tried putting a sign on it saying the manger is awaiting Jesus’ birth on Christmas day. People don’t read signs. Of course, I was too young to get that. What did we do? Put up with the knocking. A normal child would have said we can put that Jesus in the nativity scene but I would not have it.
Then first thing Christmas morning, before we did anything else, I would go around and put baby Jesus in all the nativity scenes. He is the first gift of Christmas after all. As we got older and started going to midnight mass, I’d put him in the scenes when we got home and before we went to bed.
I know to many this probably seems like an odd tradition. Based on the reactions of the people who knocked on the door to tell us about our stolen Baby Jesus, our explanation for His absence seemed ridiculous to them. I saw lots of eye rolling. But to me, this makes perfect sense. Every time I pass a nativity scene and see the empty manger, I am reminded that we are preparing for His birth. We are trying to be kind and good people. We are trying to be the people who are worthy of such a gift. This to me is a very special part of Christmas.
Do you have any special traditions that you started in your family? I’d love to read your comments.