About 25 years or so ago, when I was about my daughter's age, my mother and I were Christmas shopping and came upon a holiday store that featured a beautiful Nativity set made by famed Italian designer/family Fontanini. To say we saw a "display" is QUITE an UNDERSTATEMENT. The set was placed on high shelves all around the shop and completely encircled the entire place. I remember looking up at it, then looking at my mom, and instantly realizing that some of it was going to come home with us that day. "Some" being one or maybe two pieces. She instantly fell in love. And for a mother who is as un-materialistic as anyone can possibly be, this was "love" and not just a dramatic impulse buy.
Over the years, she added to her collection. It actually made for perfect Christmas gifts to buy for her. A few years into the collection, I saved up my allowance and babysitting money and bought her a stable to go with the set. In truth, it was not the Fontanini version, as that was a few hundred dollars, but it was better than the old dilapidated one she currently had. (This definitely shows you the love of a mother...who kept the knock-off all these years when she could have easily opted to splurge for the real thing.)
Eventually, her passion had grown to 105 different pieces each depicting scenes from the stable, the shepherds field, the Magi's travels, the little town of Bethlehem, and beyond. For the last ten years or more, the much-loved treasure was actually in-cased in a glass hutch that my dad made and displayed all year long. Many Christmases during my growing up years, my mom passed on the Christmas tree and decided, instead, to make the Nativity scene the focus of our holiday decor.
Two years ago, my mom came for a week-long visit and brought her treasured Nativity scene with her. She had always intended that I would get it after she died, but decided instead to spend the rest of her days watching me enjoy it as much as she always did. She passed it on with excitement to the next generation.
And so, it was with tears that I unpacked it for the first time last Christmas...remembering that shopping trip so many years ago...when the little baby Jesus came to stay.
It is my hope, that my children will grow to love and anticipate the Nativity tradition as much as I did. For this reason, last year, I started a new Advent "to do" to our holiday season...adding to the Jesse Tree that we already do together. I separated each of the smaller pieces...the people, animals, and small village carts and tools...into groups of four, one group for each of my older children. I tried to put them in chronological order according to the Luke 2 passages. I wrapped them all up in tissue and put numbered stickers on them.
There are about 10 or so larger buildings and background elements that were too big to wrap and add to the two large milk buckets that hold all our wrapped pieces. So, the children were able to set out all of those large pieces as an Advent countdown calendar activity.
Every morning during the month of December, each of the children were able to unwrap one piece and set it out in its appropriate spot in the scenes. Much to my delight, I found that my children took time to meditate on each piece because they were not ALL revealed on the same day at the same time. They asked many questions and constantly commented on certain favorites.
We will be repeating the tradition this year as we prepare our hearts for the Baby's birthday.
I realize that not everyone has a 105 piece nativity set. But, if you have a desire to build Advent anticipation in a similar way, I encourage you to wrap however many Nativity pieces you do have. It has been a great way to give meaning to a simple decoration and has helped to grow an attitude of thankfulness for the Baby who traded heaven for earthly skin.