I didn't even think about putting the Nativity scene up this year. I decorated the house with a collection of snowmen, various Santa figures, candles, poinsettias and a tree. I wanted the house to look festive for my local family dinner, especially for my grandnieces and -nephews -- Tom, Nikolai, Kayla, Jessica, Joey and Jordan -- and it did.
Still, something nagged at my subconscious, a gentle but persistent ghostly whisper in my ear that seemed to say, haven't you forgotten something?
It was Mom. No doubt about it! I smiled, remembering. As a child, the Nativity scene was the center of our Christmas. Even before the Thanksgiving turkey had been consumed, Mom and Dad would lift the boxes carefully from the attic to the living room and begin. The special table that Dad had built long before I was born would be carried in from the garage and filled to the top of the 2-inch edging with soil from the garden. Then, under Mom's guidance, my sister, two brothers and I would plant tiny seeds in patches, water them, and wait for them to come to life, for nothing more could be done until then.
When at last the tiny blades of grass burst through the soil, creating shouts of joy, Mom would put the stable in place and complete the landscaping around it -- hay for the stable, rocks scattered here and there, a mirror for a small pond and baking soda for new-fallen snow. Then it was our turn. The four of us carefully unwrapped the small ceramic figures -- the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, angels, Mary, Joseph and the tiny baby Jesus in his wooden manger.
With each of us responsible for designated figures, we carefully arranged the Nativity scene the way we imagined it to be. The final touch was a silver star illuminated over the stable by a small bright light. The evening it was finished, we would all gather round just before bedtime and Dad would read us the story of Christmas.
Over the years, the Nativity scene was the heart of our Christmas and a constant reminder of what Christmas was all about.
A few years ago, not long before my mother died, she moved to Carson City, and together we resurrected this family tradition. After her death, I let it slip away again.
Yesterday, however, I listened to that "whisper in my ear." I found the box clearly labeled Nativity scene. Too late for Christmas seeds this year, I thought. Instead, I cleared off a bookshelf in the living room. I started to open the box, but on second thought (perhaps another whisper), I set it firmly on the shelf. My nephew Nikolai was coming over later that day. I would ask him to set up the Nativity Scene just the way he imagined it to be.
And he did.