Christmas is slowly making an appearance at my house. As I putter from room to room, I do a vignette here, arrange a collection here, try a new look on this table. I allow my creativity to flow and whimsy to guide me. Christmas music plays in the background and I find myself humming and singing along.
I arranged the 61 year old nativity set this evening, beautifully done in ceramic and hand painted by my mother-in-law, Leta. She passed away almost 17 years ago. The set came to me shortly after her death.
While she lived, the nativity set was always arranged on her piano. I loved to look at it then, admiring the vivid colors and the fine details. My children were allowed to look too, but none of us touched it. Mimi Leta never said we couldn’t. There was just an unspoken rule among us not to touch, for fear of breaking one of the delicate pieces. They were irreplaceable.
When I received the nativity set, I was honored…and terrified. What if one or more of the pieces broke? I placed the box, with its carefully wrapped contents, into storage in the attic, and there it stayed for years.
About 8 years ago, I began to appreciate more and more the family heirlooms that I have. Most of the pieces I had were put away, for safety. But what fun was that? No one, including me, was enjoying the items and the rich stories that accompanied them. One by one I brought those cherished mementos and vintage pieces out and incorporated them into my decor. They get looked at. They get used. And I have so much fun finding ways to create interesting vignettes with them.
At last, the ceramic nativity set was unpacked and displayed one Christmas. I was so nervous the first time I arranged it. I stayed very focused and aware as I carefully unwrapped each piece. And all was well. I loved having this nativity in my home, loved walking by and studying it again. I relaxed. I would be sad if one of the pieces broke. But the joy in displaying this work of art far outweighs the fear of loss.
It’s a little ritual now, the unwrapping and placing of Mimi Leta’s nativity set. I think of her as I handle each piece, checking it for any damage, cracks or chips. The colors are still bright. Her initials LM are still carved on the bases. I imagine the joy she must have experienced as she painted the shepherd boy, the donkey, the kings. Little did she realize back then, that this set would bring joy for years to come, and that a woman she had not met yet would someday cradle each piece and smile, thinking of her.
At some future date, I will pass Mimi’s nativity set on to my children, her grandchildren. They will have to figure out who gets it, and when, and for how long. I’m sure they will create a fair arrangement. But for now, the set graces my home and stirs precious memories. How very fitting, how perfect, that I had Pentatonix playing on my iPhone, with the soulful sounds of “Mary Did You Know” filling the room and my heart. I think Mimi must have smiled at that moment too.
Mary Did You Know by Pentatonix