A CHRISTMAS STORY ABOUT A CHRISTMAS STORY
Patti Callahan Henry
Christmas-time is story-time. There’s the story of Christ’s birth; the story of the Little Drummer Boy; the Story of Santa Claus; the Story of Scrooge: Never ending stories. There is beauty in the fact that both books and Christmas come together to make us believe in magic, causing hearts to open and stories to become a part of our lives.
My two sisters and I grew up as the preacher’s kids. We’d heard the real Christmas story at least a million times (or more). We knew the version from all gospels. We knew about the star and the wise men and the shepherds. We knew Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We knew Jesus was born in a manger and that he was already was destined to die a horrid death for us because he loved us before he knew us.
Of course my sisters and I went to church even more than the average devoted member, but the advent season upped the ante: there seemed to be a service every day with the pinnacle being the Christmas Eve production. There were three of these services: one for the early birds, one for the kids and then my favorite, the candlelight service. But my favorite didn’t matter really because we went to all three services as a family.
The children’s service was a full-blown nativity production. Congregants were assigned roles to act while the gospel story was read out loud. There was the blessed role of Mary, Joseph and Jesus (lucky were the parents who gave birth in October or November; they might be chosen to be Mary and Joseph and their baby to be Jesus). Then there were the wise men with their crowns, and most magically as a child: real hay at the altar; a real manger; a real (usually crying) baby Jesus.
The preacher (Dad) would call all the children to gather around the manger with the hay and the baby and the somber Joseph (His wife was about to give birth to a baby that wasn’t his, but God’s; no wonder he was somber). One particular Christmas Eve of undetermined age, I decided I was just too mature to sit in the manger scene with itchy hay on my bare legs. I stayed seated while my littlest sister, who was about five years old, went on up to settle into the hay. Dad told the story and then began to engage the kids, asking questions.
“Now,” he asked wearing his clerical collar and advent robe. “Who knows the name of Mary’s husband?” He pointed to Joseph.
My little sister raised her hand. She was (and is) this adorable blonde hair, brown-eyed girl with a quick smile and energy to share. The preacher obviously picked her.
“Yes? Who is it?” he asked.
“Noah,” she said, certain and sure and proud.
You want to hear laughter in a Christmas Eve service? There it was. Full blown, out and out bellowing.
But my little sister knew what Christmas was all about and her heart fully loved that baby Jesus. Which just goes to show you: sometimes stories grow one into the other like roots of two trees growing side by side and the names and facts don’t matter nearly as much as the heart and truth of the story. And our favorite Christmas stories aren’t always inside a book, but in our soul’s memories.