Every Christmas of my childhood, I went to Bethlehem.

            Mother began the season by bringing out the box of carefully wrapped figures for the manger scene. It was my job to arrange the figures on a dining room shelf to hpim0141recreate the scene of Jesus’ birth in a Bethlehem stable. Ours was a mismatched set. The figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby were one piece, cast in a white faux marble inside an arch decorated with flowers and cherubs. It was a gift from a great-aunt and uncle. The rest of the figures were plaster painted to look like china. I spent most of an afternoon arranging and rearranging shepherds, lambs, a dog, a cow, and two angels. The three wisemen and camels I placed at a far end of the shelf and every day I moved them just a fraction closer to Bethlehem.

            On Christmas Eve we dressed up and bundled up to go to church. Lit only by candles in the dark window arches and on the altar, the sanctuary felt mysterious and magical. Pine boughs scented the air. People slipped quietly into pews and whispered greetings to each other. A voice from out of the darkness read the Christmas story from the King James Bible and the organist played the Christmas hymns we all knew by heart. Bethlehem Church in Evansville, Indiana was one of a string of churches built by German immigrants. We ended by singing Stille Nacht in German as we passed the flame to light our individual candles and spread a warm glow into our world.

            Several weeks ago, as I have done every year, I brought out the box of carefully wrapped figures. Mary, Joseph and the baby are untouched by time. The other figures are chipped and cracked. My childish artistry can be seen in eyes redrawn on an angel’s face. I arranged the figures on a new shelf and recalled my childhood wonder at the story they told. On Christmas Eve I will close my eyes and go to Bethlehem once again.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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