Away In A Manager

Mom at Christmas with J,J, R

A Fifty Year Family Tradition

Its been a long time since I was a wide eyed eight year old boy captivated and amazed by the symbols, decorations, and lights of Christmas. Things were different back then. Not necessarily better, but different.

The Christmas tree came from the woods on my Uncle Harry's property in Marysville and there was always hot chocolate after our search was complete. My dad moved the heavy wooden extension ladder a few yards at a time while he and I (mostly him) hung strings of multi-colored lights from the eaves of our house and onto the midsized fir tree in our front yard. I remember that there was something called "Glass Wax" that was dabbed from small sponges into paper stencils that left pinkish-white images of wreaths, reindeer, holly and Santa as decorations on our windows and mirrors. And there were bubble lights, reflectors, hand strung strings of popcorn and tinsel on the tree with a lit cross on top. I remember it being beautiful.

There was no fireplace in our house but the old, black, oil burning stove in the living room had a chimney that welcomed jolly old Saint Nick into our home just fine. For years, there were no Christmas stockings to hang - but we had a pretty cool pair of red and green Christmas long-johns that Santa filled with surprises and treats for the Brooks family.

Nativity Close Up

Yes, a lot of memories get made in half a century. So many, in fact, that quite a few of those memories are now fuzzy or forgotten. But one of those memories, from the Christmas of 1961, has lived on. It came into our home in the form of three camels, a cow, a donkey, three wise men, three shepherds, a sheep, a dog, a father, a mother, an angel and a very special baby boy. They simply called it "the nativity scene" and from the very first time that I saw it I knew it was special. It was made of ceramic material, hand crafted, painted and detailed by my mother's sister Eleanor. And it was given the place of honor, displayed on top of our family piano and never touched by the hands of children.

Year after year the nativity scene went up and down as Christmases came and went. Whether I was in grade school, junior high, high school or college the pattern was the same. Regardless of how many children or grandchildren were in and out of the house. No matter what the economy was like or what the stresses of the world were at the time, the nativity scene made an appearance on the family piano every year. From time to time a camel would be moved from one side of the manger to the other. Occasionally there would be a year that saw the shepherds mingling with the wise men, instead of staying to themselves with the cow and donkey. But always, every single year, baby Jesus lay in his bed of straw with his parents, Mary and Joseph, looking over him with love and awe.

Karen with a Tear (Nativity)

Then something happened that was outside of our control. In 1978 my mom passed away and only sixteen months later, we lost my dad as well. In very simple terms, we lost our mother to a failed heart and we lost my father to a broken one. He simply lost his reason to live – the love of his life – my mom.

So the Christmas of 1979 would be different. Five siblings, married and beginning family traditions of their own, decorated their homes, hung their lights and stockings, and trimmed their trees. We had divided our parents belongings and the nativity scene continued to be displayed with pride and care in my family's home. The piano, found it's special place with my sister Karen. And we lived our busy lives.

For the next thirty-two years the nativity scene went up and down. In Washington, it moved from Lake Stevens, to Snohomish, to Renton, and Redmond. It spent three years in Phoenix, Arizona and a few more in Sandy, Utah before it moved back to Redmond and then settled for a decade in Sammamish.

With A Tear (Nativity)

This year, the fiftieth since the nativity scene came into our lives, I felt the need to change things up. So I took the carefully packed container from it's storage location in the garage, put it in the car and drove to my sister Karen's home in Arlington. When she saw the surprise that I'd brought to reunite with the old piano, I saw a few tears slide down her cheeks and we hugged. I knew right then that I was doing the right thing.

Christmases come and go. Families evolve. And some memories fade away. In a year or two, I'll welcome the nativity scene back to my house, or maybe it will visit another of my four sisters for a while. Someday, it will go to live with the next generation of Brooks'. I hope and pray that they will understand why it is important, that it represents the true meaning of Christmas, and that for decades it has been touched, loved and cared for by generations of family. And I hope that they realize, sooner than I did, that our nativity scene needs to be shared in order to be appreciated and loved.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Your comments, suggestions, and stories of your personal edge are always welcome in my guest book.