by Elaine McAllister

Christmas is wrapped in traditions, but not all are pandemic-friendly and not all Christmases go as planned.

One of my long-standing traditions is to share my nativity scenesalso called creches—with my family and friends. I love to decorate with them spread throughout our home proclaiming Jesus’ birth to all who enter. But what if no one comes? What if social distancing cancels gatherings as it did for so many of us this time last year?

Well, this creche connoisseur had to get creative in December of 2020. The usual holiday get-togethers were limited by social distancing, so I shared my collection on my blog (which you can find here).

Over the years, I’ve acquired a few nativities.

(Well, maybe more than a few!) But I’m extremely picky and equally thrifty. Mine are not elaborate or expensive and they must really catch my eye (and fit my budget) to come home with me. I have no clue how many nativities I have. I can’t seem to keep track! (Shhhh! I bought another one yesterday for a whoppin’ $6.40. That’s my kind of bargain.)

Unwrapping my creches each year is like unwrapping gifts as a child on Christmas morning. Some of my nativities were gifts but most are rescues from garage sales, thrift shops, or antique malls. There are skinny creches and chunky ones; colorful ones and monochromatic ones. They range in height from ¾ inch to 10 inches. Some have faces. Some don’t. One is from Peru—a creche carved within an egg. My smallest multi-piece creche was made in West Germany. I love the olive wood nativity I bought in Israel.

Each one is a favorite because of who gave it, how long I’ve had it, or where I found it. Each one has memories associated with it and a story to tell. When I realized those stories reside within me, it motivated me to preserve those stories for the grandchildren who will one day inherit a creche (or two or twenty). I’m passionate and intentional about both grandparenting and generational storytelling.

My grandchildren have favorites among my nativities, for their own reasons.

Is it the look on Baby Jesus’ face? Or the colorful figurines, or their obvious lack of color? Perhaps it’s the feel … Smooth? Soft? Textured? Rugged? Squeezable? All of my grandkids have pressed the hidden button in a star which prompted the off-key, tinny rendition of Silent Night coming from inside a stuffed fabric stable. All of them have wandered from room to room finding and gazing at these reminders of the reason for the season. My older grands love to count my nativities. “Is this one new, Gramma?” they say, “because I don’t remember it.”

One priceless memory was of my youngest granddaughter peering in the window of a lighted stable to see Baby Jesus. What was she thinking? I hope she remembers that moment as the look on her face was one of pure fascination and still melts my heart today. She was mesmerized.

One grandson loved arranging and rearranging my Charlie Brown creche when he was younger. Was he retelling the story of Jesus’ birth as he moved each character? Does he remember those days?

I’m glad all of my grandchildren know and love the Christ of the manger. I’m glad they treasure each precious and unique rendering of the Baby Jesus.

Last Christmas, my online creche countdown was a hit with others but—very unexpectedly—it was a huge blessing to me. I found that as I took time to admire, photograph, and describe each one, I enjoyed each one of them much more than I would have during any ‘normal’ Christmas season! I was thankful for the opportunity to slow down a bit and reflect on the season. May each of us be thankful for unexpected blessings even when Christmas doesn’t go as planned.  

Even if you don’t collect and share nativity scenes with your grandchildren like I do, I hope you’ll find a meaningful way to communicate to them what the Christmas season means to you.  

May you be blessed by the presence of Baby Jesus this Christmas and into the coming year!

Elaine McAllister is the author of Celebrate Grandparenting: 101 Ideas to Intentionally Connect with your Grands and four other books. Gramma Mac, as she’s known by her eight grandchildren, also writes a newspaper column on grandparenting. When not spending time with family or writing, Elaine loves to garden, travel, and go antiquing. See her website and blog here.