When I was a young girl in the East Village, my family celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That's the Sicilian tradition.
My Sicilian grandmother set up a nativity scene that could rival a Who Concert. She placed a 6 by 5 foot piece of plywood on the table in the parlor (yes...I said parlor). She covered it in a few yards of green felt. The edges of the platform were lined with Christmas lights. They were those huge 1960's christmas lights not the small cutesy fire proof types we have now. The lights went along the edges and then climbed up one side of the manger, over the roof around the front and back down the other side. To this day I always imagine Jesus in a manger with big multi color lights around him keeping him warm.
I also believed that Jesus was Italian. And God was Italian too.
My grandmother had lots of straw all over the inside of the manger. There must have been scores of shepards, angels, lambs, ox, donkeys, three wise kings (like 4 sets of those), a few saints that were the same size of the rest of the crowd slipped in for good measure. There were even a few back up Marys and Josephs blended into the crowd.
I used to take the straw and put some all over the board to feed the extra animals. And of course we had a train track running around the platform as a nod from the captains of industry to the baby Jesus. Looking back, I guess that this is the type of reception that my grandmother thought Jesus should have had - tons of well wishers, animals and angels cheering him into the world.
There were so many figures that I had Catholic guilt about the ones that didn't have a good view of the baby Jesus from where they were standing.
As I got older, I began to wonder where all these hundreds of people went the day AFTER Jesus was born. Did they just go back to work and kind of forget all about him while they got lost in their day to day routines?
I miss the smell of tinsel melting on a 1960's christmas light on that sacred space.
I can feel my grandmother's spirit with me tonight. A holy night for the two of us.
Happy Christmas Everyone. Peace on Earth. Love, EVI