It has surprised me the way memories of my grandma keep creeping into Christmas this year. While we did usually try to get together for a visit some time vaguely around the holiday, we hadn't really celebrated Christmas together in years. "When you have small children, it's important that you have those Christmas morning traditions at home," she told me once, a bit of wisdom that I've held onto hard during our precious "Santa" years.
That being said, I will always, always be grateful that we made it over for a bit of an early family Christmas last year. The weather wasn't great. My windshield wipers weren't working properly. Sweet Husband had to work, so I was alone on the road with both kids. I was so close to just turning around several times, and at that point there was no real reason to think it would be her last Christmas. It could have so easily turned out differently, but I am heart-glad that it didn't.
My mom, via phone, earlier this December, "I'm getting rid of some old Christmas decorations. Do you want your old nativity set?"
"You still have that?"
"Yes, I didn't want to throw it out. Your grandma sent it to you when we were in Chicago, when you were a baby. She specifically got you a plastic one, because she wanted you to be able to play with it."
More conventionally religious than I will ever be, Grandma always took the "suffer the little children to come unto me" part very seriously. It was completely in character that she would've wanted me to have a nativity set that wasn't too precious or breakable for a toddler to hold.
Despite her early efforts, I have grown up steadfastly agnostic, and, thus, it had never occurred to me to need or want a nativity for my own kids. Nonetheless, whether you believe it to be literal truth or just a pretty bit of mythology, the birth of Jesus is a captivating story. A long journey, a desperate need, a poor baby with a spark of destiny, a mother and father being asked to fall in love with a child, even knowing what horrible sacrifices would be asked of him.
"I remember that," I told my mom. "I mean, not Chicago, but playing with the nativity set later, as I was growing up. Will you mail it to me?"
A text message excerpt, a few days later.
"Mary and Joseph, 3 wisemen, shepherd, donkey, cow and baby Jesus are on their way."
"What about the angel?!?!"
"Her too, but she was a little upset about traveling with the 3 wisemen. She is kind of a diva!"
Little Miss, carefully placing Mary and the baby in the back corner of the stable, "The mama wants to be warm with her baby."
"That's exactly what I though when I was little, too!" I beamed at her. "Your grandma always wanted the baby Jesus to be out front where everyone could see, but I always moved him into the back corner when she wasn't looking because I was worried about him being too cold."
Little Miss: She's in a cricket.
Me: No, she's in a manger.
Little Miss (indignant): Who put her in a manger?!
Me: Her mama...it was his...er, her, bed.
Little Miss: And this is the shepherd and her big brother....
Me (internally): No, that's our family, not the holy family....
Little Miss: And this is the bad king who put a curse on her....
Me (still internally): Um, isn't that...maybe Sleeping Beauty? Oh, dear lord, we need to read the real story again soon.
Little Miss (donkey in hand): And this is the cow who was bad.
Sweet Husband (very amused now, pointing to the actual cow): What about that one?
Little Miss: No, he's the one that's sad, because his mama shouted at him.
Sweet Husband: *stifled laughter*
Me: *face palm*