Away in the Manger…

This time of year is beautiful in its traditions. For me, it is a time that I cherish the good memories of my childhood, which are few and far between. But there is one memory that is a skill given to me by my Mom. She was an artist and when she decorated the house she did a beautiful job. She did not work until her late fifties and had domestic help right up until I was about two, so she had time to devote to her home decorating. She passed the skill on to my brother whose homes have been in Better Homes and Gardens. My homes, not so much. They lean more to comfort than fashionably decorated, but have always had an abundance of plants and flowers inside as well as outside. I too decorate my house for the holidays as much as time will allow me to.
My mom liked to paint and draw. But her gift was to take natural things like flowers and greenery and make them into art. She loved gardening and that was also something she passed on to me and my sister. But her greatest gift was to bring nature into the house and use it for adornment. Christmas was an excuse to step things up a notch. She so loved the art of flower arrangement that she was a leader in awards in her Flower Club and became a district judge which was a coveted role. My sister and I both participated in Junior Garden Club. One year my sister did something with a fish bowl and goldfish as part of her entry in a competition. The fish died before the judging and my sister gave up. She was not very good anyways and I do not think she enjoyed it. I did. I won a couple of awards including the top Junior Achievement Award at a State competition. We moved out of the District and my Mom had to go to work and so the garden club circuit ended by the time I was 13.
The Christmas memory I treasure is putting up the Crèche or manger with all the little statues. I have the one that has been in the family my whole life. I am guessing that it has to be at least 75 years old. It has been through a lot. I have touched it up and I am very protective of it. I remember the years my Mom asked me and me alone to help her with putting it up. Each figurine is packed in a ton of tissue. There are the three wise men and a camel, a shepherd and sheep, various barn animals and of course the family including a not so baby Jesus who lies in a wooden feeding trough. But the figures I cherish the most are the angels. There were three. One is on one knee in pink, there is a blue standing one and then there was a young little one in blue.
The little angel was my favorite. Since I was taller than my Mom by the time I was ten, I got to put her in her special spot on the top of the wooden structure that represented the barn. She was my favorite and always the last to be put in the scene just before baby Jesus. But as I was typing this story, it hit me why also she was so special. My Mom said that this particular angel represented me. It was younger than the other figurines and she was not thin like the other angels who are very slender.  But she was the protector of the Crèche and the family. I never got it when she said it so many years ago. But it was the role I was in my family. I was the caregiver for both of my parents until they passed and my sister for years. I still am keeper of all the family heirlooms and photographs. I am the protector of all that was my family and sacred and special. Believe me, there is not much.
Every year, the mantle would be covered in greenery, lights, candles and beads. The design was never the same. I can remember one year she took dried materials and spray painted them gold to look like huge medallions that went on either side of the mantle up to the ceiling. They were spectacular. The whole display was a fire hazard as they were devoted fire watchers and had one going quite frequently. There were always poinsettia lights in the display. There were red lights with silk flowers on them that look liked poinsettias. This was back in the sixty’s and not a common thing. Fortunately, they are more common now as I have had to replace them a couple of times.
I do not sleep well this time of year. It has plagued me most of my life. I have horrible dreams and sleep in fits and for short duration. I can remember leaving my bed and coming down the stairs to sit by the dying embers of a fire in the fireplace and just looking at the mantle. As I was older, I would often pray for the peace the figurines would seem to have. Christmas has never been about the presents for me. It is about the beauty of the lights and decorating and the peace and serenity of a silent night.
I do not spend as much time as my Mom did doing my displays. But I enjoy doing it every year as I feel the rare connection I had with my mom. The first year I live alone after my divorce, I covered my new house with silk flowers and greenery and a small tree with pink lights. Matter of fact, the decorations were most pink, which is my favorite color. It was stunning and very Victorian in its theme. I hate to take everything down at the end of the season, which I stretch out as long as I can. The Manger is the first to go up and the first to come down as I do not want it to get dirty and dusty. I started a tradition of my own which is to write down my wishes for the New Year and put it in the bottom of the box. I give thanks and tuck it in with the tissue. Last year’s prayer was not answered at all as I wished for Bishop to remain healthy and for Joe to enjoy his work. Bishop passed a month ago and my husband was let go from his position. However, Bishop did not suffer and my husband likes substitute teacher better. I can look at it that there was some resolve.
As for the littlest angel, she was smashed one year when my cats decided to pull the velvet drape I had them arranged on off the table. I did not have a fireplace at the time and they did not understand sacred space. I was devastated and held on to the pieces of her for years. I could not fix her, which is also very telling. She remained in an empty film container tucked in the box. It was the year after my Mom died, also very telling. I remained the caregiver for about 13 more years for my father and sister. The broken angel is now somewhere in all the other Christmas stuff in the closet downstairs. I do not pull all the hundreds of ornaments out anymore to put up on the tree. It is too small. There is so much Christmas stuff now since I have my Mom’s, My Aunt’s and my own collections. I am hoping that my nephew will someday accept some of the older more special decorations and the coveted Crèche. I am hoping he will pass the tradition on to his children. But it will always be my Mom I will see and remember. His children never met their Great Gram.
The display is never the same. I have not finished decorating for this year, so here are some from last year.

bright mantlemantle 2012

 Angels

 

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3 thoughts on “Away in the Manger…

  1. traditions are sacred ground….for they hold the memories of all that have
    passed them down…..
    I don’t sleep either, I only remember a few Christmas’s that were not WWIII
    with all guns loaded and locked on me …where as all were pristine white sheep, I was the black sheep
    always going in the other direction…
    I have so few memories of Christmas, I tuck them safely away and treasure them….as I do a few ornaments….
    I hope you have a few peace-filled nights this seasons…I’ll light a candle with your whisper on it Jane….
    you are a very special Lady….
    Take Care….You Matter…
    )0(
    BlessedBe
    maryrose

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