Helen can crack us all up and this night was no exception as she told about unpacking her manger scene she put out each year for Christmas only to find the child in the manger piece missing.
When she tried to replace it she found she couldn’t.
Other baby Jesuses were too large or too small. She tried making one out of a variety of materials and nothing worked.
She even attempted to replace Jesus with a dried bean, but that was a no-go.
Finally, she was in Walmart one day and spotted a baby Jesus for sale for $1.99. She grabbed it up and took it home and found it worked perfectly with her old pieces.
Later she texted us all a picture of the new baby Jesus safe in his manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and angel.
Finding a new baby Jesus to fill the empty spot in her home was difficult, but with a lot of trial and error she did it.
During her narrative she also shared with us her custom of not putting the baby in the manger in her family crèche until Christmas Day.
Of course her story couldn’t help but remind me of how easy it is to lose Jesus in the rush of the holiday season.
But her tradition of waiting until the day of his birth to place him in his rightful place seemed so perfect, just like most everything Helen does.
Of the five of us who sometimes get together almost all of us have been touched by sadness during what should be the most joyous time of the year.
Ten years ago my mother died on Christmas Day, and two of my closest friends lost their husbands in the days leading up to Christmas, one last year on Christmas Eve.
And yet, through the promise of that baby born more than 2,000 years ago in a simple manger we can find peace at the holidays.
I am writing this on my mother’s birthday. She would have been 90 years old today. She was born on the shortest day of the year.
As the years have passed sad memories of her last days on this earth have mostly faded, and I remember all the good times we shared during the holidays as Christmas draws near. I know that is how she would have wanted it.
She loved Christmas. She loved decorating and cooking and listening to the holiday music on her little radio in the kitchen as she worked.
She enjoyed bringing out our traditional decorations and placing them around the house in their usual places.
I especially remember getting out our manger scene. Children back then did not have masses of toys, and for us the little wooden stable with the moss on top and the small figurines were a special treat. Maybe we didn’t treat them reverently enough or pause to give them the respect they deserved. But we loved to arrange them around the stable, each in his or her designated place.
As I decorate my own home I still hear my mother’s voice telling me how to do things properly.
I remember our trips to buy my first Christmas decorations the year I was married and had my own home, and how each year she added to the collection to help me be able to make my home look special at this special time of year.
I remember how Christmas Eve was her favorite time, when the house was quiet and waiting in holiday splendor for the morning. We would all join together in the living room to read “The Night Before Christmas.”
Then, we would bring out the family Bible and read together the story of the birth of Christ from Luke 2.
My mother never let us lose baby Jesus at Christmas. She helped us find the real meaning of Christmas and make it a permanent part of our holiday.
Our world today has become so hectic, so stressful and fast-paced. Traffic is bad, drivers rude, the news blares with stories of tragedy and sadness.
Families are stressed about money, but still spending more than they should in hopes of finding Christmas joy.
We rush and push and shove and struggle and wear ourselves to a frazzle to try and make Christmas a time of happiness.
But all we really need to do is find baby Jesus and restore him to his rightful place.
It is there that we find the true meaning of the season.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.