Jo March (Louisa May Alcott).
The house is decorated. The presents wrapped. The merry clanging of the accouterments of baking and candy making accompany Christmas Carols playing on the stereo. Between batches, I am dusting off cherished volumes on the bookshelves. One by one I open the books, pulling out scraps of paper marking where favorite passages are highlighted. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach obviously does the same. She wrote about the passage above in her classic Simple Abundance- A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. Her entry “Gifts of the Magi” recalls Jo grumbling about their poverty at Christmas in Little Women.
Sarah is emphatic: Christmas is about gifts. Always has been. Always will be. The trick is to give important gifts- the best of which cannot be wrapped up in a box.
That first Christmas showed what gifts are precious. Gifts of the Spirit. Joseph gave Mary the gift of trust that she was not carrying another man’s child. Angels brought the gift of joy through song. An innkeeper gave shelter of what he could. The Three Wise Men gave the gift of diversion. They had every reason to be skeptical- the baby in a manger did not match their notion of the circumstances they would find the promised “King of Kings” to be in. At the risk of their own lives- they did not tell the truth to King Herod. Instead of returning with news of where the insane despot could find the baby, they helped the young family escape to safety in Egypt.
Perhaps all this is why the Nativity Scene, which wandered tabletops and mantles for many Christmases until it finally found its home on top of the piano.
There is something Karmic about the manger scene lying at the feet of an Egyptian papyrus painted with the classic Egyptian fable of the journey from this life to the next.
The papyrus came rolled up in my husband’s suitcase from the bazaar: it arrived as a terribly wrinkled souvenir of a long-ago business trip to Egypt. When we could afford to have the memento properly mounted and framed, it hung in Gerry’s office until he decided to make a career change that would have him better able to enjoy our son’s company before they moved on in adulthood.
Setting up the manger has always been special. But rituals need updating to keep their inspiration fresh. This year is lean- what could be put together to freshen the crèche? What could be crafted to pull our attention to the emotional impact that belongs in Christmas?
The answer was in using what we already owned and repositioning. The Angels- these paper-machete ornaments didn’t have to be hung from the tree. The cloisonné-like snowflake pulls in the colors from the Egyptian papyrus. To the child-like imagination it is quite acceptable Technicolor Stand-in for the Star of Bethlehem.
Next- how to make the angels fly underneath a brightly lit sky? A saleslady at Through the Garden Gate reminded me that the disposable hangars from the dry cleaners- the ones with a tube in the center- pull apart leaving these little “hooks” which can be cut right off the hangar. Voila`- these hooks were hot-glued to disposable chop sticks, which were in turn hot-glued to the manger.
Merry Chrismas Everyone. May your eyes, ears and hearts be open to all the love and wonder of the season.
The papyrus was prepared for dry mounting and custom framed by Baxter's Frame Works, 1273 S. Diamond Bar Blvd. Diamond Bar, CA 91765 (800) New-Frame (909) 861-3033 http://www.baxtersframeworks.com/
Through the Garden Gate is at 895 West Whittier Blvd, La Habra, CA (562)697-6869
has a sister boutique, Through the Garden Gate Too located just afew blocks east in the El Cholo Plaza.