I remember years ago at the enchanted forest display, Eric sounding out the words “The... Christmas... Story” and asking me to tell him the story behind the cosy image of the baby in the manger. Which I was surprised to realize he didn't know. He appeared to only have vague ideas about guys in bathrobes giving gold to babies. Which would have been a terrible idea, by the way, because everyone knows that babies put EVERYTHING IN THEIR MOUTHS. Which is maybe why they called the men who did this wise-guys. Humph. Everyone knows that a good practical joke is one that everyone finds funny (that is the rule for happy-tricks-on-you-day in April), and I highly doubt the mom thought it was funny. But I digress.
So when the boys asked about the Christmas story, I was tongue tied for a moment. I knew there was good odds I was not up to the awesome responsibility of accurately relaying the story of the birth of Jesus. (I was thinking of the time they saw Noah’s Ark themed display and they asked me to tell that story, and what a complete disaster I made of it. Partway through they wanted me to elaborate on the “God” character, who I’d kind of given the impression was like a big talking raincloud. Then I realized I’d never really explained about God to them—they were so small. I really wanted to do it justice, so I launched into what different people around the world believe, and theology, and... And their eyes glazed over because boy does mom know how to boring up a good story about a good guy with a floating zoo doing battle with an evil angry talking raincloud).
So before launching into the Christmas story, I paused for a minute. I realized that I was probably not going to accurately relay the story of the birth of Jesus... but I also realized that there is pretty good evidence that nobody before me did, either.
So, I decided to do what people have done with Bible stories–with any stories–for centuries. Tell the story not as it originally may or may not have happened, but as a myth. A story that relates to the people listening in the moment. I decided not to tell the boys the Christmas story, but to tell them our Christmas story.
Our Christmas Story goes like this:
A long long time ago, there lived a woman named Mary. She was very young... hardly more than a girl. Mary had a baby growing inside of her—which was a problem in some ways. You have to have a special kind of cuddle to get a baby inside you, and Mary was supposed to wait to do that until she was married. Now maybe she didn’t wait, or maybe the baby got in there some other way, but either way Mary was in Trouble. She was scared because everybody would be angry with her, and because she had to push that baby out, which really hurts, and because once it was out she would have to take care of it. And that isn’t very easy either.
To make matters worse, someone was after Mary’s baby. Someone wanted to kill it, so she was really scared. Also, it tax time, which makes everyone grumpy. (Although it was different back then because nobody had invented paperwork yet, so you had to go on long trips instead of running around the house opening drawers and yelling about receipts.)
Anyway. They had traveled very far, on a donkey–which is incredibly uncomfortable, and Mary was exhausted when she started to feel a great pain in her tummy. The baby was coming. At home, there would have been people to help her. People who knew her and loved her and who had pushed out babies themselves. People who would be On Top Of The Situation.
But there was nobody like that in this strange place. Nobody even wanted to give them a place to have the baby, even though Mary's husband Joseph went from hotel to hotel asking. Explaining that a baby was about to shoot out of his wife, which to tell you the truth is not the best way to convince someone to let you stay in their hotel. Babies shooting out of people is very loud and very messy, which is the opposite of what hotels want from their guests.
So Mary had to have the baby herself, with only the help of Joseph. Who a very nice man, but not even bright enough to be trusted to say "can I book a room" without adding "so my wife can scream and bleed all over". She had to have it herself in an old barn, which someone let them use probably because it was all messed up and loud already. And because if someone didn't give Mary a place to push out the baby soon she was going to do it on some hotel's front lawn and that would have been terrible for business.
The barn was smelly, and dark, and filled with animals and pokey straw and poop. But, Mary had to push the baby out there, anyway. Her, all crying and wailing and scared. With only Joseph to help her, and he was crying and wailing and scared, too. And they didn't know how to do it, and when it was time for the great pushing at the end Mary had a Realization. She realized that there had been a huge mistake. She realized that the baby was too big to fit through, and this was a terrible idea, and what was she thinking to even try. She realized that the baby would have to turn around and go back and live it's life and grow up inside her tummy because she was not strong enough to squeeze it out and that was final. She realized this because she was alone and scared and far away from her family, but also because at that part of pushing a baby out, every woman realizes this. It's part of the process.
And right after that realization, something amazing happens. It happened with each of you boys, and it happened with Mary and her baby.
It turned out that Mary was strong enough. She pushed and pushed even though it felt impossible and even though it hurt like nothing had ever hurt before in her life. When her brain didn't know what came next, her body showed her what to do. And there was noise, and there was mess, and there was crying, and after that there was a beautiful little baby, like you see in the pictures.
Well, not exactly like you see in the pictures. Because newborn babies actually look kinda like a cross eyed hairless rats covered in blood and slime and with gaping drooley industrial vacuum suckers for mouths. But when mothers look at them, they are the most beautiful things in the world, and the pictures you see are the pictures of the baby as seen through her heart.
Not as the baby actually looked. The way the baby actually looked--and smelled--is what later prompted the wise guys to hand over a bunch of jewelry and perfume. Because they were not exactly wise but they were definitely more objective about appearances.
So Mary sat there, looking down at her baby, and she was filled with the most amazing love for her little boy. In that moment, she was no longer a scared young woman huddled in a sea of night with a powerful man trying to hunt her and her family. She was a mother, with mama bear love and mama bear power. And she was no longer far from home, either, because the love and hope that filled her heart made a family home out of wherever she was. The straw felt softer, and the animals were quiet and calm, and she and Joseph cuddled the baby and Mary realized that love makes a family wherever you are.
We say it all the time... "love makes a family", and we make it sound simple. Except it isn't. Love making a family is often very hard. It involves crying and darkness and sometimes yelling and mess. It involves things not being right, not at all. It doesn't usually fit the first time, and it's often say harder than we pictured. It involves knowing we are not strong enough, but pushing through anyway. And it involves these moments of peace.
Where love makes everything golden and soft and wonderful, and we realize we are so much stronger than we thought. Where we realize that families are not about love making things un-messy so they be wonderful. It's about love making it so that things can be messy and wonderful at the same time.
We tell that story at this time of year, when the days are short and it’s easy to be filled with gloom as we wait for the sun to return. We tell it now, because this is a good time to remind ourselves that each of us carries light inside of us. And that nothing that is going on around you can keep you from letting that light shine. Even when it's hard, and imperfect, we keep going.
And in return for that, we get family. Warm and glow-ey and messy and wail-ey and also filled with love. Our own little miracle. Nothing like you see in the pictures--but wonderful anyway.
Looking for more holiday joy? Check out this post, in which I ruin solstice.
Also, if you haven't read The Holiday Dildo story... it really is my best work. Read it. Share it on Facebook. Get uninvited from Family Christmas. It's what they call a win-win.
Looking for more sweet love-ey metaphors about childbirth and blood and guts? Check out The Blood Spattered Pause...