And Then I Was Five

I was bustling around the living room, putting up Christmas decorations when I unearthed the old fiberboard creche in the bottom of a box. It was folded up and stored in a ziploc bag but I could see that most of the pieces were still there. For several years now I’d passed it over in favor of a spiffy 3-dimensional folk art creche designed by Jim Shore. But this year, for some reason, the new and spectacular didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to see the old creche again.
I remembered my mother telling me that it had come from Germany which had linked it forever in my mind with the story of the origins of the carol “Silent Night.” Franz Gruber and Father Mohr had composed the piece in Austria but it had been sung in German and I had learned it in German as a child. Hence my connecting the piece with Germany.
Each creche piece has a slot in the bottom that fits into a corresponding pop-up tab on the base. The tabs have become limp over the years and some of the figures tend to list a little but they are still standing. Originally, we had a Christmas tree light that was carefully fitted into the hole of the stable roof and my father would plug that light in at night. Its glow would flood the stable with a radiant light. The stable is so rickety now that I don’t dare try putting a light on the roof but I still remember it.
I decided to set it up on top of the old china cabinet. That way it would be right at eye-level and out of the dog’s reach. First I put down the base and then set up the two background pieces. The walls of the stable came next. The walls had originally been all one piece but one wall had torn off. However, if I balanced it just right and then put the roof on, it would stay upright.
Once the stable was intact, I carefully positioned the back fence with the donkey and the cow looking over the rail. That had always been my favorite part growing up because of our dairy farm background. It was a particularly handsome cow.

The shepherds and the sheep were the next to be positioned. I noticed that the set was missing a shepherd and a sheep, according to the labeled tabs, but I still had enough so that they looked well-represented. Funny, I had never noticed before that the older shepherd was carrying a type of bagpipe….one of my favorite instruments.
I vaguely recalled that bagpipes had not been the sole invention of the Scots. Perhaps the Germans had also used some type of bagpipe in their musical celebrations?
Then it was time to place the Wise Men. As I slipped them into their tabs, I thought of the gifts they had brought to the Christ child, each gift foretelling the baby’s future role and even, death. Gold symbolized Christ’s kingship, frankincense stood for the anointing oil of the priesthood and myrrh was an embalming oil used at death. Thank God the death was only temporary or we wouldn’t have much reason to put up a creche scene, would we? The artist responsible for designing this creche had included a black Wise Man. According to Medieval legend, Balthasar came from Ethiopia and was often depicted as an African or Moor.
Once everyone was in place, including the Holy Family, a curious thing happened. Suddenly I was five years old again…..looking at the creche and filled with all the wonder I had first felt as a child. I walked over to the china cabinet and grasped its curved top. I was just tall enough that my eyes were able to peek over the top of the cabinet and I could look straight into the stable.
I didn’t see the tabs holding the figures upright. I didn’t see the gaps where there had been other figures. What I did see were figures off in the distance on winding roads in the background hurrying towards the stable. I saw a little shepherd boy who probably didn’t have much, bringing his lamb to offer to the child. I saw a mother gazing with pride and wonder at her newborn and Joseph, standing protectively beside them. Even the animals seemed to sense that something extraordinary was in their presence. I, too felt the extraordinary. Daddy was in his chair in the corner, reading the Sunday paper. Mom was in the kitchen working on the pork roast and John was napping in his crib. And I,…..I was standing on my tiptoes so that I could see over the top of the table where the creche scene was displayed.
“Baby Jesus is coming,” I whispered, wiggling with excitement. “Baby Jesus is coming.”



One Response

  1. Dee,
    What a great post on your fiber board creche! My mother has one very similar (maybe the same) that she puts up every year. Actually, she said this is the first year she put it up herself. Usually it’s now a grandchild who does it.) It’s not Christmas in our extended family until that creche goes up.

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