By Janice Lindsay
This is the kind of crèche you buy for the first Christmas of your married life, when you don’t have much money but can’t imagine Christmas without a nativity scene.
It includes one mother, one father, one baby, one angel, three wise men, one cow, one donkey, and two lambs. No camels, no shepherds, no heavenly host.
This is the kind of crèche you could buy for $3 at a discount store fifty years ago; $3 wasn’t much even then.
The tallest figures measure less than four inches high. All are made of thick cardboard covered with a paint-like surface in various shades of beige, with touches of pale pink for human lips, animal nostrils, and a blush on Mary’s cheeks. The people’s faces are sweetly, quietly bland.
The back wall of their rough wooden stable holds a pasted-on gold paper star and a hole for a naked night-light bulb; an unattached electrical cord for the bulb is included. Stable walls are sticks.
This is the kind of crèche that, when you buy it, you say, “I’ll buy a nicer one when we can afford it. Carved wood. Or ceramic. Elegant. Classy. Artistic.”
But this is the kind of crèche you can’t bear to part with, no matter how many new ones you could afford. Because this humble crèche – our crèche – holds precious memories.
That out-of-place wise man, for example. When our son was 18 months old, he perfected a snatch-and-throw technique. His hand was quicker than my eye. He’d grab something and toss it, all in one motion. In that way, one of our wise men bit the dust – or, rather, shattered into dust, which is how I know about the figures’ insides. The replacement wise man doesn’t quite fit. He’s too tall, he’s the only figure on a pedestal, and he’s too colorful, with blue swaths on his cape.
Then there’s the angel, Gloria. I know her name because she carries a banner that says, “Gloria.” Through a hole in her back, she hangs from a nail protruding from the front peak of the roof. She does her solitary best to represent a heavenly host. She hovers, gracefully, keeping watch. When I needed to name a character in my children’s novel – an opinionated aunt who seems to boss her niece even from the gave – I called her Aunt Gloria, for the angel who sees all.
Then there’s the kitten. A cat is not standard issue for nativities. But years ago, my mother wrote a poem about a cat in the manger. Surely a cat was present on that holy night. Cats seek warm cozy spots, especially where they find friendly people. I added a tiny kitten to our crèche. If the substitute wise man doesn’t quite belong, kitty appears to be from an alternate universe. She’s pure white ceramic with black eyes, and she is 100 percent non-Biblical. But she’s just the right size to be friends with those people in our crèche.
Over the years, I’ve seen many beautiful crèches, and, these days, large inflatable nativity scenes for outdoor display. (I can’t quite come to terms with the concept of a balloon Baby Jesus.)
I’ve considered buying some lovely nativity set, much classier and more tasteful than my own. But each time, I realize that, if I displayed a sophisticated, artistic crèche, I would want to display our homey old one, too. It belongs here, as no other ever will.