In 1988, Mary and I purchased a little nativity scene at a market in Mexico City. The figurines are all about an inch tall, and the set has become something we absolutely need to put out every year. It contains the usual shepherds, sheep, cow and angel, along with a duck and a goose. Being Bible-literate people, baby Jesus does not appear until Christmas morning, and the wise men journey across the table-top to arrive on Epiphany. Then into the box they go until next year.
As you may remember, we also acquired two tuxedo cats, sisters, in 2021. Rocky, the smaller of the two is the athlete, jumping up on anything possible.
Both she and her sister Zorra are acquisitive. Toys, dead flies, and other treasures are moved around the house and stashed away. (I found a catnip mouse inside my shoe yesterday.) You can see this coming now, can’t you?
The basic scene was set up sometime in Advent, on a bookshelf where we also display a few Oaxacan wood carvings. Since Baby Jesus was out of the box, but was not going to be a premie, he was tucked away behind the box a couple of shelves above the manger.
Come Christmas morning, I went to move the cause of all the day’s fuss into his proper place on the pile of hay, aka his “crib.” (Little Jesus was already hip to 20th century slang.) But…not only was the pile of hay missing, so was little J.C. We eventually found the haypile underneath the cat’s scratching post, but no baby Jesus.
We systematically went down the bookshelf, looking behind and around the Angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit, but no. We told the magi “Wise men still seek him” and they took the hint and looked around as well.
Joseph, Mary and the Angels hung out waiting and hoping for good news. We scanned the floor, we trod carefully. Epiphany came. The magi had their gifts, but no child to give them to. We had to face the reality that tiny baby Jesus had ascended into the vacuum cleaner.
We decided to use a Navy bean to represent the child next year, and went to put the menagerie away. And there, on a shelf we had looked at a dozen times rested Baby J, sleeping between the legs of a Oaxacan cat.
We will never know the details. Did baby Jesus figure out that it’s all about the gifts, and saw no reason to crawl out until the wisemen were due with the booty? Did Zora and Rocky feel remorse and return the child to a location where he would be found? (The fact that the holy child was found next to a wooden cat lends credence to that theory. Perhaps Zorra and Rocky were lobbying for cats to be included in nativity sets.) Either way, a Christmas miracle.
Here’s hoping some magic visits you in 2023.