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Thursday, December 6, 2012

insights: naked baby jesus and the worst christmas visitors ever

Naked Baby Jesus
Living in a trailer park, there wasn’t much opportunity for landscaping. A tiny grass plot near the stairs was all there was. And for a few weeks every year on this special plot lived Joseph, Mary and a creche for Baby Jesus. On the Friday after Thanksgiving my very Catholic Meme (pronounced meh-may French for grandmother) would arrange the 3-foot tall electric lit, faded plastic Holy Family in a little circle, Joseph looking at Mary in his faded yellow tunic, Mary's hands folded in prayer, resplendent in a robin’s egg blue dress and a wooden creche that was to hold Baby Jesus. But Baby Jesus wasn’t there in his cradle. You see, baby Jesus lived in a cardboard box on the top shelf of Meme’s closet.

We never knew if it was a thing from my grandmother’s childhood in Canada or perhaps just a quirk of hers, but Meme insisted that Baby Jesus should not be placed in the creche until Christmas Eve. My mother and grandfather tried to put Baby Jesus out with his parents each year but my grandmother would say “What is WRONG with you? Baby Jesus was not born in NOVEMBER!” and she would whisk poor Baby Jesus back in the house to the safety of his cardboard box on the top shelf. This wasn’t the only issue with Baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus was naked.

In a very innocent way, of course. The chubby, pink, plastic baby was on his back with his legs crossed just so, and his right arm raised as if we caught him blessing the Magi for the Frankincense. His plastic brown curly hair had faded to a grey but his smiling pursed lips remained rosebud red.  Meme took very good care of this baby. While Joseph and Mary lived in the shed, Jesus laid on a bed of cotton balls in a hatbox from the department store, G. Fox. There was a very serious problem with this Baby Jesus, though, and it was that he was naked. Meme couldn’t understand why anyone would put JESUS, King of All Men outside NAKED so she did what  any reasonable grandmother would do and she made him a satin white tunic trimmed with lace.

I was in love with this baby Jesus in his dress. This was a Jesus I could pray to with his little clenched fist. I didn’t like the scary grown up Jesus hanging on a cross in the front of church with blood running down his sides. I adored this little Baby Jesus and I would often drag a ladder over to Meme’s closet and gently take the Baby Jesus box down and touch his plastic curls, running my chubby little fingers over his small ears. Meme, however, would find me sitting on her bed with Baby Jesus, reprimand me and yell at my mother “Jacqueline, can’t you make her stop this? She is playing with the Son of God! Jesus IS NOT A DOLL!”

And on Christmas Eve, the four of us would bundle up and place the fancy Baby Jesus in his creche, I imagined, to the great relief of his parents who wondered who had absconded with their baby.

I mention this because this year I have seen so many lit nativity statues like this one and the first thing I look for is Baby Jesus, who is always with his parents. I have a feeling if my grandmother were still here she would knock on their doors, with Baby Jesus in hand saying “You know Jesus was not born until CHRISTMAS EVE!” The thought of this made me laugh so hard today I cried. In a very good way.

The Worst Christmas Visitors Ever

My absolute favorite thing about the holiday season is being with family and friends. Playing Scrabble in our pajamas while the snow drifts, cuddling with my husband and puppy in front of the twinkling tree, making my grandfather’s French Meat Pie. There is so much joy this time of year, especially this year when I am grateful for the happy that is coming into my life.

There was one year though when uninvited guests joined us and almost ruined our Christmas. L. and I were newly married and we were supposed to have L.’s parents over for a holiday dinner. One afternoon a few days before the Big Day, L. called from work and said plans had changed and would it be OK if his parents came over that later evening for dinner and would I mind getting the tree and preparing dinner in a few hours? “Yes, sure, we can do that,” I said.

We had the food to prepare dinner but we didn’t have the tree yet. Luckily, in the town in Connecticut where we lived, there was a Christmas tree farm on the next street. That day had been icing off and on but I knew I didn’t have to drive far so I threw on my coat and drove over to the farm. In the ice storm, the farmer and I picked out a stout, full, icy, wet Blue Spruce tree. I put the top down on my little Volkswagen Cabriolet and we put the tree in my backseat. With the top down and the icy rain pouring down I drove the tree home and dragged it up two flights of stairs to the loft.

It is nearly impossible to put up a fresh tree alone but I wanted to be a good wife and  daughter-in-law and obviously, it wouldn’t be a good Christmas dinner without a tree.

So I leaned the tree up gently against the window and finagled the ice covered tree into the base. I was wearing ski goggles and gloves to avoid getting pricked by the needles  but the goggles kept getting fogged up so I took them off. As I laid under the tree I felt drip, drip, drip, the ice melting into water drops running down my neck and shirt, into my eyes, drip, drip, drip. Struggling to turn the keys in the stand to secure the stump in the base I didn’t have a free hand to wipe away the water as it dripped into my hair and my face, up my arms. And as I looked down at my hand I saw that the water droplets had legs, lots of legs and these water droplets were moving fast down my back. I realized what was falling on me wasn’t water.

It was hundreds of hatching baby spiders, falling from the melting tree onto me, the rug, our new couch. If I let go of the tree it would fall through the huge loft window so with the baby spiders crawling over me and under my clothes, I secured the tree. I don’t remember ever moving so fast in my life as I popped up, ripped off my wet clothes, shook out my hair and watched as the hundreds of baby spiders, freed from the wet ice into the warmth of our loft space discovered the joy of climbing and running across carpet.

I called L. at work. Dancing away from the spiders I said, “WE HAVE BABY SPIDERS. HUNDREDS.”

L. calm as always said “Where did you get them?”

“The TREE. They were in the TREE. The tree that is now In. Our. Living. Room.”

L: “Can you get rid of them?”

I watched the babies climb the blinds to the second floor. “No, I can’t GET RID OF THEM. They are everywhere. They’re crazy. I THINK THEY CAN FLY. Your parents will be here in two hours. What do I do?”

L: “Get rid of as many as you can. It will be OK. I’m on my way.” This is why I love this man. His parents are coming over in just a couple hours, our place is covered in bugs and I haven’t started dinner but he is calm.

I hung up the phone, thew on some Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas music, grabbed some Windex and gave myself 15 minutes to clear out as many spiders as I could with my spray and wipe method. Yes, L. came home, we turned off the lights, lit dozens of votive candles and had the loveliest first Christmas dinner with his parents.

Turns out that the sudden hot temperature was what caused the spiders to hatch. For this reason we decided to never again get a live tree. Plus, we like the thought of a sapling growing, dappled in sunlight and spreading its branches to catch the warm rain of a summer thunderstorm and providing a home for a wren’s nest. And the spiders that remained that evening? We learned to live with them and their offspring for the rest of the time we lived in the loft.

I thought of this story today when I thought about things that go wrong and when you’re in the moments, it’s hard to remember that it’s not the end of the world if your cookies burn or you didn’t buy your kids  the most expensive gifts or if you suddenly have hundreds of spiders joining you for Christmas dinner. What you will remember is eating raw cookie dough together as you make another batch, and piling the kids in their jammies into the car to go look at the lights and the way your husband plucks a spider from your hair and kisses your forehead.

This year, especially this year I wish for you to find your happy too. May you find the joy, the happy, the pleasure in all the small things that make up a life. Cherish the parking spot in the very front of the mall, the sunny, clear day that was predicted to rain, your favorite song that comes on the radio when you're in traffic, the family waiting for you at home. I wish all of this for you. And for me too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

May this season be full of happy moments for you. I’m looking forward to exploring 2013’s great adventures together!

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