Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Away with the Manger
One of my favorite boyhood memories of Christmas is the "manger scene" with the baby Jesus. Small depicting figures were carefully placed on the coffee table each year with other Christmas decorations. My Mom thought it was a great reminder that the holiday was not just about Santa Claus.

When Sandi and I had our first Christmas together as couple something was missing until we had our own "manger scene". I think we got it from an Avon saleslady. It is the "Deluxe" version with an Angel, Three Shepards and two stable animals in addition to the regular cast of Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the three Wise Men. It is now more than 35 years old and it has been out every Christmas until this one.

My friend Sink first introduced the idea of an "active" manger scene. He said as a child he would set up his manger scene with the Wise men some distance away from the stable. Every day he would move them closer so that they would actually "arrive" at the manger on Christmas day. I thought that might me a great way to retell the Christmas story to my kids. So one year we did just that. I would get the boys to help move the Wise Men closer each day as Christmas drew near. I thought it was cute when they referred to them as the "Wise Guys" who sometimes flew with super powers to the next location. This is when the lines blurred for my kids. For me the manger scene was a reverent reminder of faith, for them it became an action figure game.

The Christmas when the boys were eight and five, I walked past the manger scene to find it had been re-arranged. The Wise guys and the Shepard's were now worshiping a donkey that had replaced the baby Jesus in the straw. Before the lightning strike of blasphemy hit the house I quickly swapped the figurines back into their proper roles. Perhaps the kids were admiring the baby Jesus and mistakenly mixed up the order. Surely the boys weren't "joking around" with the sacred Manger Scene.

Later when the donkey was again occupying the bed of Jesus I decided to talk to the boys. Neither fessed up to the crime, but knowing my eldest Son's humor I assumed it was him. I assured them both that we could all go to hell if this sacrilege was not stopped. The donkey was to remain in his proper place. The next time I looked it was not the donkey being worshiped; it was the sheep.

I mentioned to the boys that the punishment of hell applied to the worshiping of all farm animals. The next time I looked, one of the Wise men was in the straw and baby Jesus was tending the sheep. I could never catch either one of them in the act, even though I was constantly vigilant.

A day or so later, once again, the cast of characters were covertly rearranged. This time it was discovered by a guest who dropped by the house. I threatened my eldest son telling him that this game would stop or I would become the vengeance of the almighty. He swore that he had not touched the figures this time. Only after it happened yet again did I realize that the five year old was swapping the characters because he knew it might get his older brother in trouble.

As the years went on it became a Christmas time joke for one of the boys to rearrange the figures and try to get the other one in trouble. Friends of the boys soon picked up on the tradition. I was on constant patrol around the manger scene either trying to catch them in the act or rearrange the figures. Eventually I saw the humor in it and realized Jesus probably did too, even as the arrangements got more bizarre and shall we say adult themed.

We decided that the temptation was too great this year as both boys are back home for the first time in three years. Since they are my boys, they will never get too old to go for another joke. Jesus and the rest of the Characters will remain in the box.

What is Christmas but a time to remember?
As you were,

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