A Tale of Two Crèches

By the date on the calendar, we are in the full throes of the annual "War on Christmas," and every day there seems to be another news story about some governing body trying to misinterpret the Establishment Clause.  My blood pressure doesn't rise from eating too many cookies or drinking too much egg nog, but it sure does from trying to understand how anyone could seriously be traumatized to the point of threatening legal action against the "most wonderful time of the year."

A need for a new exterior for my family's Nativity scene made me realize that two men in my life, my father and my husband, both non-religious types, have been responsible for creating the most religious representation of Christmas there is.

My five brothers and sisters and I were raised Catholic due to my mother's side of the family; my father was the product of a "mixed" Catholic/Protestant marriage in which his parents managed to avoid raising either of their children in any religion.  As a child I was used to my father not attending church, unless his presence was required -- e.g., for the christening of one of his children or for some other social convention like a wedding or a funeral.  He loved to jokingly paraphrase Karl Marx, saying "religion is the opiate of the masses."  When Pope Paul VI said Mass at Yankee Stadium, it just proved my father's point about the fallibility of religion -- no real God would be a Yankee fan!

My family didn't have many Christmas traditions, but one was setting up the Nativity scene in our seldom-used living room.  My parents received the original three figures the first Christmas they were married.  Over the years, additional pieces had been added.  Interestingly, it was my father who took on the role of curator of this collection.  He was the one who repaired broken angel wings and made all acquisitions.  It was his determination that we needed more animals and more shepherds.  For years, we had only two Wise Men; I swear it was because my father couldn't find the exact one he wanted to complete the trio.  It was also my father who, late in life, decided to build a crèche to house the now cast of thousands.  Though he was not particularly handy, he still managed to build (in my mind) a work of art that included a large palm tree and a glittery gold star that hung precariously over the roof.

For a long time, I had called dibs on the Nativity scene.  When my father passed away last year, my mother gave me all the figures.  For some reason that only mothers seem to understand, she threw out the structure in which they had been situated.  I think it had a leaky roof or something.  My husband, sensing my disappointment, offered to build me a new one.

My husband, like my father, has his doubts about God and religion.  He still confuses the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception and asks me how I can believe that a piece of bread is someone's body.  But his lack of belief didn't stop him from taking on the project with his usual gusto.  He scoured the internet to find just the right design and regularly checked with me about the stain for the wood, the kind of trees I wanted, and if he should build a trough from which the "animals" could eat.

So here is the question: why were my father and my husband able to come in such close contact with religious symbols without being offended?  And by the way, as far as I know, neither of them has ever suffered any ill effects from seeing a Nativity scene on public property.

Maybe instead of decrying Christmas for being so exclusive, why not look a little deeper and see that Christmas is probably the most inclusive holiday there is?  You can take it all, or just a little, or totally ignore it.  There is a reason why movie theaters are open on Christmas Day.

My father could appreciate the beauty of the hand-crafted figures without having to believe in what those figures represented.  My husband could show off his woodworking talents without having to accept that what he built is a representation of the birthplace of Jesus Christ.  He could also take pleasure in giving his wife the best Christmas present ever. 

Mary Durbin is a late-blooming conservative who lives and works in the Tampa Bay area.

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