The Christmas manger and the little ones

By  Harry Mcavoy, Catholic Register Special
  • November 30, 2007

xmasManger.jpgOn Christmas afternoon, Hope, my five-year-old, will carefully deliver baby Jesus to grandma’s Christmas manger. Mom and dad have had their manger for as long as I can remember. It appears every year in early December and takes up its position of prominence on the end table in the living room.

Over the years the youngest grandchild has been called upon to place Jesus in the cradle between Mary and Joseph. The children have always looked forward to this special duty and have kept a careful eye on the cradle in the manger to ensure that Jesus doesn’t arrive a couple of days early. There is no need to worry as grandma is on guard and Jesus will appear at the appointed time, and not a day too soon.

The manger is made of dark brown cardboard that looks kind of like barn board. The roof is covered in straw and there is hay spread around the manger floor. Scattered among the hay are a cow, lambs and even a three-legged camel. There is a shepherd with a white lamb on his shoulders, the three Wise Men, and an angel that hangs from the roof and keeps a close eye on the Holy Family. At night time the manger is illuminated by a small yellow bulb hidden high in its rafters.

I remember visiting my parents the Christmas after Rose Anne, our first child, was born. That afternoon dad and I wrestled with the assembly of a baby swing. As we twisted the last leg into place we debated where to put the swing to give Rose Anne the best view of her first Christmas. It was decided the swing would be positioned near the manger. During the day Rose Anne could marvel at the tiny figures and at night be comforted by the gentle light shining in the manger.

Today, grandma’s prayer books sit beside the manger. I heard mom explain to Hope that during Advent grandma sits beside the manger when she says her morning prayers. I suspect Hope understands why grandma would do that. Hope loves the manger. 

Like her siblings and cousins before her, Hope likes to pay visits to the manger. When she does wonderful things happen. Sometimes a lamb will travel all the way across the living room and be found wandering among red and green hard candy in the Christmas dish. Or maybe the old camel will lie down in the hay and the hay will cover him over like a comforter. On many occasions the Wise Men have arrived at the manger well ahead of Jesus. This is not scripturally correct so grandma sends the Wise Men back to the corner of the end table to restart their journey.
The Christmas manger has been a wonderful symbol of faith shared by grandma and grandpa with their children and now their grandchildren. Without a word being spoken, the little ones understand that Jesus is coming and at that special time when Jesus is placed in the manger, Christmas will have arrived at the McAvoy home. Yes of course the magic of Santa will be everywhere but not a single gift is opened till Jesus is in His cradle.

Every year my wife, Jennifer, and I put together a picture calendar that we give to my parents at Christmas. It is a simple, inexpensive gift. This year the December picture is Hope placing Jesus in the manger. Hopefully grandma and grandpa will be warmed by the picture of their granddaughter displaying the utmost care as she gently puts baby Jesus between Mary and Joseph. In this picture they will see the planting of the seeds of faith and the passing on of their love for our Lord.  

As I was writing this article I called Hope to my office. I showed her the December calendar picture and I asked why she liked the manger. She said, “Because Jesus is soft and I like Mary and Joseph.” Then she added, “And when I go to heaven I will know what Jesus looks like.” As Hope ran out of my office she said, “I have to finish helping Emma,” her 11-year-old sister, “on the computer.” Sure you do Hope, Merry Christmas darling.

(McAvoy writes about family issues from the Toronto area.)

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