The Thanksgiving turkey had barely cooled to room temperature when my family started decorating for Christmas. Friday morning, we put up the tree, slapped a wreath on the door and decked the halls with all sorts of plastic holly.
And, as has been our tradition for several years, we left the Nativity setup to our daughter, Emily.
A past tradition
Now, it used to be that we’d all deal with the Nativity set together. We’d take out the figurines, piece by piece, and set them where they should be. When our kids were little, we’d talk to them about each figurine and their importance from the Bible. And for those characters not actually in the Bible, we still made up little backstories for them — imagining why they were here at the stable for such a momentous occasion.
So our Nativity scenes looked a lot like they did in your average normal house. Baby Jesus was always the center of attention, flanked by Mary and Joseph looking suitably radiant. Some shepherds and wise men mill around the periphery, apparently waiting their turn. An angel hovers above the proceedings, her arms outstretched like a celestial fisherman explaining her latest catch. It was all very reverent.
But somewhere along the line, backstories for nameless shepherds were no longer good enough. Emily began to take our little tradition in entirely new directions, using LEGO mini figurines to spice up the holiday with a Nativity presentation that Matthew and Luke had never recorded. Over the years, our crowded little stable has been under attack from Gary, the snail from SpongeBob SquarePants (along with his two giant spiders), a trio of sword-wielding dwarves from Middle-Earth, and most of the cast from Star Wars. I always enjoy talking with Emily about the different stories playing out in our nativity scene.
“What,” I once asked, “are C-3PO and R2-D2 doing here?”
“Protecting Jesus,” Emily answered. Of course.
It’s a new theme every year. Sometimes they feel like a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster. Other times, she uses her annual Nativity display as cultural commentary. In one recent setup, most of the Nativity figures were gathered around a huge television set (actually a picture frame) while Baby Jesus lay off to the side, ignored. It was a reflection, she said, of how the Christmas season can sometimes distract us from the holiday’s holy meaning.
A favorite tradition
Emily’s ever-shifting Nativity scenes have become one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I’m a big believer in tradition. A Christmas without tradition is a Christmas that doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. We have lasagna every Christmas Eve. I have no idea why, but I’m guessing one of my great-great-grandmas thought it sounded tasty. We always read Christmas stories to each other — even though my kids are old and probably have more exciting things they could be doing. Still, the kids humor me, because they know this stuff is important to me. And I hope that, when they have children of their own, they’ll carry on these traditions with them.
But like our Nativity set, sometimes it’s nice to give traditions a little twist. It keeps things fresh and lively — blending age-old holiday pastimes with something a little unexpected.