On Christmas morning, I woke up at 7am.
After midnight mass on Christmas Eve, we went home to a supper of string hoppers and my wife’s chicken curry and potatoes.
The next morning, my family and I got ready for our first Christmas Day visit. An important visit. To my mum’s house. My siblings Christina and Angelina, my aunty and uncle, were gathered for Christmas breakfast and lunch.
As I stepped into the house, and after wishing everyone, I headed to the beloved Christmas Crib. It’s a mini creation of the scene described in Luke chapter 2, verses 1-20 of the First Noel.
We spent so much time catching up with my siblings and mum that I realised that gone are the days when I couldn’t wait to savour the food. My children and their cousins’ happy sounds added to the festive mood. They were busy playing with their Christmas gifts and with one another.
I remembered, when I was a child, how I looked forward to putting up the Christmas tree. As soon as the tree was up, Mum would then carefully take out a box. We were told not to open the box. My dad used to say that the contents of the box were expensive and made in Italy. Those were the ornaments that my siblings and I helped to put on the tree.
Also from the box, my mum would take out small statues from the Nativity scene: the shepherds, the wise men, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. The Nativity set even had a sheep, a cow and a donkey. They were made from clay and handpainted. My mum created the Christmas Crib and a stable scene. Some years, she would make a cave scene, for which I used to crumple brown paper and paint dashes of black paint on it. Sometimes it’s done like a hut. The crib is usually set next to the Christmas tree.
After placing all the statues, my mum would finally place baby Jesus inside the crib. My dad would then take over by putting up the lights; in particular, he modified a huge light which he placed directly above baby Jesus.
Later in my life, I realised my interest in miniature photography was inspired by my mum’s creation. Whenever I was at church during Christmas, and the reading of the Nativity was in progress, an image of the crib at home sprang to mind, depicting the arrival of Jesus into the world. I visualised the shepherds at the crib, coming to visit the Saviour of the world. They never knew Jesus but was told of his arrival by the angels. The wise men, too, got the message from a star and also visited baby Jesus, bearing gifts.
From this micro-level image, later in life I saw the macro-level of the image being played out in the institution of the Family. At the end of the day, it’s our family that is our prized possession, a gift to be nourished and cared for with love.
The Nativity showed how a beautiful thing happened to a family in Bethlehem. The surroundings didn’t look good, but the celebration was beautiful, with visitors coming from far and near. Like the shepherds and the wise men in that story, we have our friends who have become part of our family.
The Christmas Crib will be lit until past New Year, till Epipany Sunday (Jan 6, 2019).
As a child, I would watch sadly as the Christmas tree was taken down after Epiphany Sunday. Mum would carefully remove the statues, one by one, and place them into the box. She would seal it with masking tape. It would be up again the next Christmas.
The micro scene my mum created has left a macro impact on my life, teaching me to appreciate and treasure the institution of Family.