Our family nativity scene and the greatest story of all time
In our family home of more than 60 years there was a fireplace. It was very small and narrow and I assume intended to be only decorative. It simply was not large enough to actually build a fire. There were andirons and a handful of logs. When I think back to my childhood home, however, this tiny fireplace figures prominently in my memories.
At Christmas my mother would remove the logs from the fireplace and it was there that she would position our small crib and nativity figures. I always thought of it as recalling the cave at Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary took refuge and where the Baby Jesus was born.
I think fondly of this memory. It seems so fitting that the manger scene was on the floor where as children we could look closely at the figures. They were plastic, not delicate or fine art; each no more than three inches tall at most. No harm was done if a toddler picked up a shepherd and wandered off with it. Usually we might find it later under the sofa.
Our tradition was that the image of the Infant Jesus was not added to the arrangement until after we got home from Midnight Mass. But the ritual of positioning the image was a well anticipated one. When we as children did a kind deed in the days before Christmas, my mother would give us a piece of straw to add to the manger to create a soft bed for the baby. Fortunately, we did not have to remove straw from the manger when we might have done an unkind deed, so there was always an ample bed of hay to greet the newborn.
Because of this encounter with the nativity figures, I suppose all of us could recount the story of Jesus’ birth long before we could read the story from our children’s Bible.
On Christmas afternoon, after the big dinner at my grandparents’ house with dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins, another tradition was to visit our parish church to visit the manger scene there. As a small child these figures seemed life size. In reality they were probably 12-18 inches tall – but compared to the figures at home they seemed immense. Except for during Mass, we could get up close and look at the figures. I recall the rich adornment of the Magi and I thought the camel was probably large enough for me to sit on. These figures were fragile so there was no touching.
There are certainly childhood memories of the Christmas tree and lights and other decorations, but I most cherish the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the assorted characters and animals in our fireplace manger scene. They were a great way to tell the greatest story of all time.
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Across the Diocese
The entire Catholic Church is called to participate in the upcoming Synod of Bishops. Synodality expresses the nature of the Church as the People of God journeying together on the same path. In his most recent Across the Diocese video, Bishop William F. Medley sat down with Martha Hagan, vice-chancellor and diocesan contact for the synod, to discuss Pope Francis’ call for all people to participate. They discuss the theme of the synod, expectations for listening sessions and the intended audience. Watch the video at https://vimeo.com/642481463.
Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.