A Place of Honor

A Place of Honor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

A Place of Honor

“Package for you, ma’am.”

The postman left a plain box. It bore no printing, no hint as to the contents. Our overwhelming urge to shake the box produced only a slight shift in the load. Carefully cutting around the top, we removed the lid and peered inside.

With a questioning look on his face, my husband slowly unpacked six chubby figures and stood them on the table. When he placed a small, triangular bundle at their feet, I couldn’t suppress a broad grin. Black, beady eyes, looking slightly myopic and a bit crossed, stared at us from under snatches of acrylic hair. With no noticeable change in their expressions, they stood quietly awaiting our inspection and approval.

Some months earlier I had mentioned to our daughter Kaye Lynn my desire to have a set of heavy-duty, childproof nativity dolls for our grandchildren to enjoy. I wanted peace of mind when inquisitive little fingers felt a need to hold or examine one.

I also thought their own private collection would distract them from the stunning crèche ensemble I hoped to acquire. I dreamed of a lavish array of ceramic or porcelain, perhaps even crystal, to occupy a place of honor in our home—a spot where Mary and Joseph could display their precious babe undisturbed. Each piece would stand amid ripples of gold lamé fabric, the bright glow of carefully directed lights reflecting off polished surfaces.

My husband and I giggled as we examined each little guest. A more comical group of adoring subjects I had never imagined! They had been crafted with a wild sense of humor and a practical streak as well. For instance, contrary to popular belief, a blonde Mary wore crisp, pink-and-white gingham—easy to launder, cool in a desert climate and ultrafeminine. Joseph, on the other hand, appeared dapper in his brown plaid—ideal for traveling the dusty roads of Judea. His flowing auburn hair and full beard lent an air of sophistication.

I imagined an audible sigh of relief as we unfurled the angel’s white felt wings that had been tucked tightly around her body. Her embroidered eyes were stitched closed, either in reverence or perhaps fatigue after her busy night proclaiming the wondrous news. And baby Jesus slept through it all, an odd little three-inch package swaddled in blue felt, glued atop a pile of old-fashioned excelsior packing.

There were no shepherds. No doubt they left early, anxious to spread the joyous word; besides, they had sheep to tend. Robed in plush fabric, three wise men wore identical silver hats. No knees bent in adoration; their fat little bodies were not designed for that.

The unexpected gift became a cherished possession.

Our grandchildren love those little people. Each doll has been hugged and kissed and taken on walking tours throughout the house. Secrets have been whispered and bruised feelings healed as they rocked together.

Baby Jesus has enjoyed many a quiet nap under the sofa, in a drawer or on someone’s bed. Joseph never complains when his long hair is brushed and braided, parted and ponytailed as little girls practice their tonsorial skills. To our delight, one of the grandchildren recently dubbed the wise men “those three old guys in the shower caps.”

The dolls survive all this affection remarkably well. Their wire arms assume astonishing positions, but they’re still flexible. The excelsior hay dried and broke off, but a handful of pale yarn works just fine—and baby Jesus slept right through the regluing. The angel’s droopy wings need to be replaced with new white felt. At this rate, the set will be in fine shape for our great-grandchildren.

And my burning desire for an impressive crèche subsided. Our daughter Barbara displayed hers atop the piano while they lived with us—gold lamé, bright lights and all. When she moved, she not only took her porcelain figurines, but five grandchildren and the piano as well.

We were left with only our little stuffed dolls, and it was okay.

Recently, the delivery service left another brown cardboard box. It was huge and much too big to shake. How exciting to remove packing by the yard, boxes inside boxes, with Bubble-Pak® and cotton batting stuffed everywhere.

This time we unwrapped ceramic sheep and shepherds, cows and camels, donkeys and wise men (some of which are kneeling), and the holy family. Kaye Lynn had hand-painted them all, and they are beautiful.

Now, I must give some thought as to where I can best display the cast and characters of my new crèche. I want them to represent the peace of the season and the richness of its message—but with a bit of flair. And I also want them to be safe from curious little fingers. Which location will I designate as the “place of honor”?

On second thought, maybe that spot has already been chosen.

Is there a lovelier place than in the chubby arms of a child? Can gold lamé shine as brightly as the eyes of a toddler as he sings to his “baby”—even if it is a wise man? Do spotlights and crystal compare to the light of Christmas shining in the face of innocence as a granddaughter and Mary share a moment in deep discussion about parenting skills?

Those first fat, little dolls with their fake hair and poor eyesight have been in the place of honor all this time, and I never realized it.

Now if I can just remember to buy some new white felt!

Mary Kerr Danielson

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