I was the anointed child allowed to put up the creche every year. It never occurred to me my slouching older siblings would be relieved. It took days to arrange it. My mother gave me a box of cornmeal for sand (who can have wise men with no desert to cross?) and my grandmother gave me some dried papyrus heads that resembled palm trees (who can have a desert without palm trees?)
First, I’d lay down the plastic wrap, pour out the cornmeal and mound it into drifts. I was proud of my extra touch…using the camels to create foot prints in the sand behind them. Last was the plastic angel, whose foot I stuffed into the cardboard tab at the peak of the stable, to look as if she were blessing and watching out for baby Jesus and his parents. It bothered me to stuff her bare foot (I mean she WAS an angel after all, isn’t that a little disrespectful?) into the tab slot. But I figured she’d understand it was more important to be on top of the manger.
I moved the livestock around many times a day trying to get just the right sense of casualness and awe. It always frustrated me there were no horses. I did my best with the golden donkey.
I’m sure my mother was praising God constantly during this busy time of year, that I was so enamored and consumed by the nativity scene. She got a lot more done when she wasn’t chasing down her spaghetti pot (that I borrowed to raise snails in. What? it was the PERFECT size!) or the red tablecloth (that I regularly stole for it’s outstanding cape properties). I was the kid that every parent thinks: “this child is going to be the death of me”.
I could sit for hours and look at the creche. It was my idea of perfect family life. Parents who adored you, and grownups you didn’t know who came to worship you: traveling long distances to bring you gifts. Your own star.
How perfect is living in a barn? It never occurred to me Mary & Joseph would ever leave the barn. WHY? This is ideal family life, when you’re ten and horse crazy.
I was also the kid who could never figure out why no one wanted the donkey behind Door Number 3…you can have $50 in cash, or we give you the donkey. TAKE the donkey, you idiot! You can get a washer and dryer any old time. But a donkey? They’re practically holy by association.
I still have that Creche. The barefoot angel too.
At ten, I figured out that all families are holy. They all look a little different (our typical immediate-family-only gathering consists of about 40 people) or not be all white like the creche (I was SO confused when we did our 4th grade section on Arabia -sorry it was 1950’s textbooks- why are Jesus, Mary and Joseph white, blond, and blue-eyed?) but they are holy. In our case, “family” did not always mean related by blood.
Or even religion. My dad and one set of grandparents were Buddhists, some Aunts and Uncles were Jewish. My mom was Christian mixed with Native American beliefs like her mom. At Christmas, we put a Christmas tree AND a Star of David in the window. We put oranges, flowers, and rice on my grandparents alter for Buddha. My Japanese grandparents (born in Japan) put up a Christmas tree and celebrated Christmas as the joyful birth of a holy man into the world. They put a Star of David in the window to show respect for him.
My Christian mother patiently explained that Jesus, Mary and Joseph WERE Jewish. That only after Jesus died, did people start being Christian. (Jesus didn’t even know people became Christians till after he died and looked down from heaven! That was a stunning thought.) To disrespect or not honor anything Jewish would be to disrespect the history of Christianity and Jesus and his parents.
My Native American grandmother spent Christmas going to hospitals: not visiting (intrusion of privacy) but to sitting in every waiting room on every floor, to pray in person for each and every individual, sick or working, in the hospital. This totally didn’t work for me. I was bored silly. Plus the look of absolute peace on her face was disconcerting, and kind of scared me.
We had aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters with no blood relation. The idea of descendant-only family didn’t hit me until I was in my twenties. I believe the sense of family being holy at it’s core, came from inclusion. Mary didn’t snatch the baby Jesus away from strangers. Joseph didn’t order out shepherds to make room for the wise men. They opened up. They included…they welcomed all people who meant no harm into their family. I believe that is where I imprinted the idea of what a family is, and precisely what makes it holy: opening up, including. I thought a lot about family while moving cows, sheep, shepherds, camels and the golden donkey. Family included animals. Not in the backyard. In their world. The whole world.
Family, for me, includes everyone who shows up and is consistently kind and practices the basic tenets of most major religions: the first of these is love.
My family always had gay people. My grandmother’s sister and her wife. An uncle. More cousins than you can shake a stick at. It is also White, Mohawk, Chinese and Japanese, Mexican, and African American. Our 4th of July picnic looks like a United Nations potluck with squirt guns and hotdogs.
When you’re a kid, it’s all global. What you grow up with is the lens you first see the world through.
Not a bad way to grow up, seeing inclusion and acceptance defined as ‘family’. To have inclusion and acceptance of different beliefs defined as respect and honor.
“It only adds…all the good in the world can only add to our religion. What’s different isn’t as important as what is the same.”
So what is all the hullaballoo over gay families and legal marriage? It doesn’t change the global definition of family, though it may change your childhood one. One man, one woman. One Japanese man, one Indian woman. One woman, one woman. One man, one man.
What is all the hullabaloo about my religion is the one great true religion? Honor, love, respect and inclusion: isn’t God’s creation the ever expanding universe?
All families are holy. At their worst, a family is an expression of the miracle of life. At their best, a family is a celebration of the miracle of life.
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