Away from the Manger

Away from the Manger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Away from the Manger

“Okay, that’s the last of it.” Michael stacked the final box in my entry hall.

I surveyed the tattered, dusty containers with anticipation. To me, these Christmas decorations from Michael’s childhood, in storage since his mother’s death, signified our future together as a couple. We were sharing all sorts of holiday activities—parties, shopping and, now, decorating. In a few months we’d be married, and I was eager to create some traditions of our own. I yearned for meaningful practices, significant and unique to the two of us.

Opening the crates was a start.

“Hey, here’s our old nativity set.” Michael pulled out a well-packed box. “Mom always put it under the Christmas tree.”

I carefully unwrapped Mary and Joseph and the manger. Stuffed deep in the newspapers was a stable. I placed it on the floor beneath the tree and arranged three wise men, a shepherd boy, a lamb and a cow. All accounted for, except . . .

I double-checked the loose packing and looked under the wadded newspapers, hoping to find the missing figure. Nothing.

“Honey,” I called to Michael, who was busily arranging Santa’s toyshop in the dining room. “I can’t find Jesus.”

Walking to my side, he playfully squeezed my shoulder. “Excuse me?”

“The baby Jesus for the nativity. He’s not here!” I rummaged through more wrappings.

Michael’s expression tensed. “He’s here. He has to be. He was here the last Christmas Mom was alive.”

Hours later, all the boxes were unpacked, but Jesus never appeared. Michael regretfully suggested we pack the nativity scene back in the crate.

“No,” I said. “I’ll find a baby that matches the set tomorrow.”

We kissed good night, and Michael went home.

The next day, I stuffed the manger into my purse and headed to the hobby store during my lunch hour. No Jesus there. After work, I searched for him at several other stores only to discover that baby Jesus wasn’t sold separately. I considered buying another nativity just to replace the Jesus in Michael’s, but none of the infants fit the manger.

Michael arrived for dinner a few days later, and I broke the news to him. After we ate, I began to repack the figurines in their box. Michael stilled my hands with his.

“I think we should leave it up.”

“Honey, we can’t. There’s no baby,” I replied. “We can’t have a nativity without Jesus.”

“Wait a minute.” Michael pulled me away from the tree. “Now look from back here.”

He pointed. “At first glance, you don’t notice anything missing. It’s not until you look closely that you see the Christ Child is gone.”

I cocked my head and looked at the scene. He was right. “But I don’t get your point.”

“Amid the decorations, shopping lists and parties, sometimes we lose sight of Jesus,” he explained. “Somehow, he gets lost in the midst of Christmas.”

And then I understood.

So began our first Christmas tradition—significant and unique to our family. Each year, we position the treasured figures in their customary places. The manger remains empty. It’s our gentle reminder to look for Christ at Christmas.

Stephanie Welcher Thompson

More stories from our partners