My house is merrily decorated in reds and greens right now with cheery elves peering from shelves and the smell of our freshly cut Frazier fir tree fills the living room. Julia loves the animated ornaments that sing holiday classics like, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” while ballerina figurines spin dizzily on the lighted boughs.
I’m struck by the traditions Julia clings each year such as placing felt strips of “hay” in the manger for good deeds and kindnesses thus softening the cardboard manger for Jesus. She nightly rushes to the Advent wreath to light candles, including the center purple “Daddy” candle whose flame seems to burn the brightest, to read the lesson and talk about how we can best prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. These traditions are those that we shared with Wesley and perhaps they would be where her heart and sweet spirit led her regardless of his loss but I find it interesting that these, the ones she associates with Wesley, are the rituals she clings to in her Christmas devotions. It is as if he is with us, just apart from our sight, as we go through the frivolity of December and she is determined to keep him in our traditions even when we are apart one from another.
Despite the bounty of Santas and twinkling lights it is the Nativity sets that Julia loves most. We have a multitude of Holy Families with all manner of mouse Wise Men bringing not frankincense and myrrh but walnuts and berries to baby Jesus and what seems like the whole population of Bethlehem on my glass table behind the couch from the Fontanini Nativity I have had since I was first married. Each year Wesley and his mother diligently added animals and figures to our set, multiplying the masses present for the holy birth and as I unpack them each year I feel equal parts jubilant and heartsick. These are old friends whose presence reminds me of days of happiness and peace and I lovingly tell Julia about how Daddy bought the mother and child figure the year she was born and the donkey as an inside joke about character Sam Wainwright from “It’s a Wonderful Life” who annually calls his friends on Christmas proclaiming, “Hee Haw” in lieu of a more traditional holiday greeting; a custom Wesley picked up and adopted.
In unpacking our Nativities I’m struck by the faces and postures of the various participants in the holy birth of Jesus. Baby Jesus looks heavenly and sweet with his mother Mary kneeling beside him, her hand on her heart in blessed adoration. But Joseph looks strikingly different to me in each incarnation of our Nativities from weary and footsore to amused and joyous. The poor woodland nativity’s Joseph is missing part of his staff, an ear and his left foot–it must have been a rough road to Bethlehem!
I sit in the dark with just the Christmas lights illuminating the room tonight and find myself thankful that I have been so blessed with a community who have cradled me and Julia in their heart even when loving us and supporting us was messy and challenging. People close to me have loved what was not their responsibility to love and cared deeply for a grieving mother and child. That ability to cherish something that is not your obligation personifies the giving spirit and brings to mind Joseph for me. To raise a child, not just any child but the Son of God, as your own is the ultimate act of self-giving. Joseph the foster father, “earth daddy” as we call it in our home, is a special role and one that takes someone with great love to embrace. Being a Joseph to others and caring for someone that is not your own, with love and wholeheartedness, is humbling and beautiful and I’m blessed to find such multitudes of Josephs and Josephines in my midst.