Saturday, December 24, 2016

Nativity set

I remember looking at a ceramic nativity set when I was quite small. I didn’t think I’d seen anything prettier than those smooth white clean figures. I got to touch one, and it was as lovely to touch as to look at. I wanted them, of course—and our little plaster figures didn’t seem to quite measure up. I didn't have the words to say so then, but could painted plaster possibly represent purity as well as unstained ceramic? I don’t know if we had the plaster set at the time, or got it later—it doesn’t matter, I’d seen them at church already.

My Youngest Daughter has such a set now, handed down to her by her sister from her grandfather, who had a ceramics business for a while. They are set up around the Advent wreath and candles. I can still see what I admired in them. True, the features are not crisp, and the postures represent a fleeting moment of greeting, and I’ve an adult’s painful awareness of how fragile they are. But I appreciate others now, and don’t covet ceramic anymore.

A large wooden set from Liberia, standing wobbly(*) under the tree, is the family traditional set. I remember each of the children doing their part with them. That matters a lot more than silky feel.

Nativity still life scenes aren’t meant to be realistic. Mary wouldn’t be kneeling, she’d be sitting to rest, or lying down. The animals would be outside, and of course the magi didn’t show up for a while—and they didn’t stick around long enough to give Mary an undergraduate course in astronomy. It doesn’t matter. Do I take a moment and remember? That matters. When Youngest Daughter sets up hers again next year, she'll remember her grandfather and her sister, and baby Jesus--and that matters.

And I remember what babies are like. The smooth ceramic is like a baby’s smooth skin—but cold.

(*) Every year I promise myself I'll flatten out the bases to stop the wobble, but it is cold in the winter, and the set is packed away by spring.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is an element of the Sehnsucht CS Lewis felt for the moss garden on a tin that figured so prominently in Surprised By Joy.