Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gold, Frankincense, and What's that Other One? by Jayne Martin-Dressing

Gold, Frankincense, and what’s that Other One? by Jayne Martin-Dressing

My children are caught up in the Christmas frenzy, and I don’t just mean the bright lights and the never-ending candy, though those have taken their toll. I’m talking about the Christmas story; the birth of the baby Jesus. They love this story. When my daughter was about three a good friend of mine bought her a book of the Nativity story complete with the word “virgin” and full frontal nudity of the baby J. She loved this book, and wanted to read it over and over. I can see why it’s fascinating. You’ve got babies, donkeys, barns, sheep, presents, angels. There’s a lot to love.

At first the liberal mom in me wasn’t sure I wanted to go down this road, I mean we do have the Easter story in a few months which is not so pleasant. But they believe in Santa Claus, the giver of gifts, why not promote this tiny baby who started the whole crazy season anyway? This year, my daughter now 7, my son 3, we checked out quite a few new stories, all with different twists on the classic Bethlehem mystery. They loved The Crippled Lamb (sad, sad title), all about this one little sheep who doesn’t get to go with the others because of his bum leg, but ends of getting the all important job of keeping the baby J warm because the holy family chose his barn in which to give birth. Then there was The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (serious tear jerker, I had to choke out a couple of pages) about a wood-carver who is called gloomy Toomey by the town children. We find out the cause of his gloominess is that he lost his wife and baby years ago to illness, and he has never been the same. His outlook changes when he is asked to carve a Nativity scene for the town widow and her young son. I thought it would be over my 3-year old’s head, but he was mesmerized by the illustrations (the curly lamb is cute), and the repetition of the little boy’s requests to make the figures as he remembers them. We also read The Christmas Rose about a little shepherd girl who follows the shepherds who’ve seen the angels as they watched over their flocks. She gets into the city of Bethlehem only to realize that she has no gift for the baby. Of course, an angel appears and blooms of Christmas roses appear everywhere which she gathers to give as her gift.

My children loved these books, and it’s been really fun to give our Christmas a less secular slant this year. The stories emphasize that this season is more about giving than receiving, more about the simple gift of love, than the pleasure of new things. As I tucked my daughter into bed the other night, I told her the story of The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry. She gasped when she realized that the woman was cutting off her beautiful hair to have enough money to buy her husband a gift. We don’t see much sacrifice in gift-giving these days. As I was turning out the light, she asked me, “What are the Magi?” I explained that the Magi are the three wise men who invented the idea of gift giving with their visit to the baby J in the manger. I asked her if she remembered the three gifts that they gave him. She thought about it for a minute, then said, “Gold, Frankincense, and…Curry.”

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