Christmas Gift #9: How a Disaster Becomes a Christmas Memory

When I was young and in elementary school, my mother decided to begin a new family tradition. On a night soon after Thanksgiving, she and my father brought us all to the side table in the dining room. On the table was a large empty wooden creche about 2′ high. Next to the crèche was a pile of straw. The seven of us crowded around the crèche.  creche

“Christmas is coming and when you are especially good,” she explained, “you will be allowed to place a piece of straw into the crèche so that the baby Jesus will have a comfortable bed to sleep on Christmas Day.”

We nodded enthusiastically. We wanted to be good for Christmas. We wanted to place straw for the baby Jesus, but, being “good” is hard. Our desire to place a piece of straw in the crèche was offset by our everyday failings. There were unmade beds, unfinished suppers, and incomplete homework.

The endless wait for Christmas had the unfortunate effect of making our running in the house more annoying, our voices louder, our teasing more irksome. Even my new baby brother seemed particularly irritable. From toddler to fourth grader, the seven of us were a collective failure.

By December 23, a pathetic number of straws sat inside the crèche, while the pile of straw on the outside sat untouched.

“Look at this,” my mother grumbled, “how can the baby Jesus sleep on these few pieces of straw?”
We saw her distress.

The next day, we made our beds without her asking.
We tidied our rooms.
We didn’t run.
We didn’t tease.
We said things to each other like, “dear brother” or “sister, dear”.
We cleared the table, without her asking.
We went to bed on time, without her asking.Jesus

While we slept, she must have tossed the idea of “being good” and tossed the remaining straw into the crèche.
On Christmas Day, the baby Jesus appeared in the crèche, nestled onto a large pile of straw.

Fond memories of a disaster can be a gift….Christmas gift #9.

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