12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7‏

Written December 2013.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’d like to wish you something about visions of sugar plums, snow flakes gently falling, silent nights, all is calm, sleigh bells jingling…blah, blah, blah…but I’m just not seeing that at my house.

Here are my own “12 Days of Christmas.” Life is moving fast around here, so the reality is, I’m cramming 12 days worth of activities into just a week. So I guess it’s really…

“12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7”

(Go ahead a sing along to yourself…)

In seven days before Christmas, here’s life in this family…

12 Eggs a Day
11 Hungry Sheep
10 Loads of Laundry
9 PM Skate Time
8 Smart Carts to Build
7 Frozen Waterers
6:30 Cub Scouts
5 Christmas Trees!
4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies
3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant
3 Dentist Visits
2.5 Hours on Bleachers
2 Trees Cut Down
and a Check-Up Before Insurance Changes.

12 Eggs a Day: Our young hens are just getting started on their production, and we now get about a dozen eggs a day. This makes enough for our family and enough to share with Mom who makes brunch for a crowd. By spring, we’ll be getting 40 a day. Hooeee!

11 Hungry Sheep: This really isn’t a surprise, but sheep are much easier in the summer. They just wander around and eat green stuff and they’re happy. This whole feeding hay bales business in the winter is so much more work. I wish they could just climb up in the hay mow and throw down a bale themselves.

10 Loads of Laundry: This was my goal for the week. The reality: I think I washed about four and folded maybe two. The whole trip to Montana thing really did throw me off, although I cavalierly assume every time that I can just suck up the exhaustion and get right back in the groove of life again. January…now that will be the time that life gets all in order. I’m sure of it. Probably.

9 PM Skate Time: My second grader has a skating party on Friday night from 7-9 PM. I don’t even go out that late anymore. The thought of driving to Harmony at that time of night so she can repeatedly trip and fall on the skating rink and then cry in frustration because she’s learning to skate two hours past her usual bedtime…let’s just say I’m more of a Sunday afternoon skate kind of girl.

8 Smart Carts to Build: My husband, Jarred, is swamped in the month of December with eight Smart Carts to build. Smart Carts are cart with a box that can hold feed or small animals (like litters of pigs), with a scale for weighing whatever is in the box. Normally, he gets orders of one or two at a time. He recently redesigned the carts to simplify the construction, but eight at once is sort of a beautiful burden.

7 Frozen Waterers: Jarred also designed a new low-maintenance winter-proof chicken waterer, but he hasn’t had time to finish it yet (see above). In the mean time, we deal with frozen water for the chickens, which means watering twice a day. If I could just teach the chickens to enjoy ice cubes, life would be much easier.

6:30 Cub Scouts: I realize there is no 6:30 in the song, but this is just one of the events in our week of something going on every single night. In the busiest month of the year, we let our six-year-old join cub scouts. He’s pretty excited about obeying the law of the pack.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

5 CHRISTMAS TREES! That’s the total in our house these days. We cut down a big old beauty from Van Normans’s Tree Farm, and then each of our kids also has their own little artificial tree that they set up, too. But wait, we also have one in the toy room. That makes six. For song purposes, though, we’ll just stick with five. It’s more glorious sounding that way.

 Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman's.

Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman’s.

4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies. First of all, I would like to state that I am not a single drop Norwegian. I am primarily Luxembourger. However, I married into the Norske culture, so when surrounded by Norwegians, learn Norwegian things. Last Saturday night, I spent a wild night of three hours rolling out four dozen Berlinerkranzer cookies for the Norwegian Festival at church. My kids looked at the cookies and said, “Where’s the frosting and sprinkles?” I told them in my serious low voice “There was no Betty Crocker frosting on the cold, frozen fjords of Norway. These are the stark cookies of a rugged, independent people.” And then they asked, “Could we just put sprinkles on them anyway?” They’re only part Norwegian, after all.

3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant. I love nothing more than seeing little kids dressed up like sheep and wisemen singing “Silent Night,” but as anyone who’s ever helped with a Christmas program knows, those cute little programs don’t just happen by themselves. It took an hour of practice and some tasty brunch to keep everyone’s energy up for the hour-long church service. All told, three and a half hours…plenty of opportunity for practicing patience.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play.  The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play. The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

3 Dentist Visits. Of course, I scheduled these visits back in June, when December seemed forever away and easy…

2.5 Hours on Bleachers. (Yes, this song goes on and on, just like real life.) Last night at school we enjoyed the delights of another holiday performance for 2.5 hours. The first hour was pleasant. Then my two-year-old daughter in a long red holiday dress wanted to leap off the bleachers in exhausted boredom. Not tripping and getting a bloody nose: a Christmas miracle.

2 Trees Cut Down: The highlight of my week was heading out in the frigid cold to Van Norman’s Tree Farm. I grew up just a few miles from there, and even got a plane ride from Willis Van Norman as a kid. I think this was the first time in about 20 years, though, that I’ve been out to their place. It was great to see a former neighbor. Heading there felt like the real Minnesotan tree hunting experience: trees, farm fields, and quiet.

And A Check-Up Before Insurance Changes: I figured the simple thing would be to get a routine check-up before the end of the year. I incorrectly assumed it would be quick. Ninety minutes later, I walked out. That made me a half-hour late to our kids’ dentist appointments (see above). I’m quite healthy, but that routine checkup gave me high blood pressure.

Bonus alternative song ending: And a Frozen In-Floor Heating System. (That’s for my husband, who’s enjoying that in his shop while he’s out their welding.)

All light-hearted Christmas griping aside, may your Christmas be a wonderful one. May your belly be full of delicious food and your heart full of the spirit of Christmas (the silent night kind, not the stuck at a traffic light kind)…and your eyes not too sleepy from staying up too late wrapping presents or being out on the town “spreading good cheer,” yes, that’s what I’ll call it. Happy holidays, everyone! Wishing you all the best.

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The Best Gift Ever

After a 2,000 mile Thanksgiving road trip, followed by a week of post-road trip utter exhaustion, we’re in full speed Christmas mode at our house. Mounds of boots by the door: check. Christmas tree cut down: check. Christmas Program at church: check.

Bundling up our kids to head out the door after church, our pastor stopped me and asked if I would mind being one of the volunteers to write about “My Best Christmas Gift Ever” for an advent season devotional. I agreed, with mixed thoughts of “that sounds interesting” and “why did I just take on another project.”

Sitting in the van on the way to my mom’s house after the three and a half hour marathon of the kids’ Christmas program practicing and performance, I felt more than a little fried as I tried to ponder my best Christmas gift ever.

Nothing really jumped out from my memory.

Perhaps my favorite gift ever was my Cabbage Patch Doll in first grade. It was the one I longingly stared at week after week at the hardware store in Plainview. I dreamed about getting to hold the doll in my arms. On Christmas morning, it was the first present I opened, and it was indeed the very doll I’d wanted.

Mahala Sibyl (yes, that was the name the doll had) was a great present and very memorable, probably because stared at her week after week in the store. I don’t know, though, if that was my BEST gift ever.

Then I realized the present that meant the most to me was not a Christmas present, but an unexpected birthday gift from my younger brother.

When we were kids, our grandma used to give us five dollars every year on our birthdays. My younger brother Matthew has his birthday two days before mine. The year that he was about six, he brought his crisp five dollar bill from Grandma along on a shopping trip to Rochester, ready to spend it the day after his birthday.

The day after his birthday, of course, also happens to be the day before my birthday. I remember being at the mall that day, looking at a little display of rings on the counter, on sale two for $5.

I wandered away then, knowing that I wasn’t really going to get them. Then I saw my mom helping my little brother with something at the counter, and I tried not to pay attention too much, although I knew what was happening.

Later my mom whispered to me, “Matthew just spent all of his birthday money on two rings for you for your birthday,” confirming what I already suspected.

We always had everything we needed, but as little kids, we rarely had money of our own. The five dollar bill from Grandma was often our entire cash earnings for the year. At nine, I fully understood the generosity of getting a gift that came from Matthew’s birthday money for the year.

On my birthday, I opened up a little box with two sparkling rings, one looked like a diamond, and the other was aquamarine. They were the same two rings I’d pointed out to my mom, but never expected to get. The rings tarnished over time, but I kept them safe in my jewelry box for years, and occasionally wore them even in high school. I think I still have them in my old jewelry box up in my mom’s attic.

Of all the gifts I’ve received over the years, it was the unexpected generosity and thoughtfulness of a little boy that meant the most to me. Matthew didn’t make a big deal about giving me a present, he just did it. And he never complained about not having money left over to spend on himself. That just the kind of person he was, and still is today. Even as a kid, that made a big impression on me.

That was my best gift ever.

Heading full speed into Christmas, I’m trying to keep all of this in my head.

My favorite present ever came from a generous little brother, and when asked “What was your best Christmas gift ever?”, nothing to me really stood out.

And maybe that is the most significant thing of all about Christmas: the lasting memories of Christmas weren’t about any specific gift. My memories are of the feelings that surround of Christmas:
-the excitement of decorating the tree,
-the secrecy of wrapping presents,
-the magic of the lights turning off in the church on Christmas Eve for the play,
-the anticipation on Christmas morning,
-the nervous excitement sitting in the crowded living room at Grandma’s house on Christmas Day.

Any one of those thoughts triggers story after story in my head about Christmas time. It’s not the presents, but the whole Christmas package that makes me so excited to celebrate Christmas with my own kids.

I’m writing this to remind myself as much as anyone. In my head, it’s easy to get stuck on needing to buy x, y, and z for my kids for Christmas to be “just right.”

In reality, the best gifts are getting to decorate gingerbread houses with cousins in Montana, cutting down a Christmas tree with family in Minnesota, and getting to hold a new baby cousin. That’s what they’ll remember.

So when Christmas morning rolls around, we’ll be up bright and early to open presents, but the best gifts we’re getting this year are nothing that can be wrapped and put under a tree.

Getting to hold a new baby cousin...one of the best gifts ever.  Welcome to the world, Gabriella! Congratulations to Steve and April Kramer.

Getting to hold a new baby cousin…one of the best gifts ever. Welcome to the world, Gabriella! Congratulations to Steve and April Kramer.

Turkey Soup Days and Ibuprofen Nights…How I Spent my Christmas Vacation

The must-have item on the Christmas list this year?  Children’s ibuprofen.  It’s not exactly what I thought would be the most requested item, but I’m awfully thankful I had an ample supply ready for the holidays.

My kindergartner and first grader kicked off Christmas vacation two days early, thanks to the winter storm school cancellations.  My kindergartner celebrated with a fever on the couch those two days, glassy-eyed and wiped out.  Since this is the season of giving, he shared with his siblings, too.  A few days later, the fever and glassy eyes moved on to our littlest one.  And one by one, each kid complained of being “so cold” even though their bodies were burning hot.

The night before Christmas Eve I count as one of my worst nights of sleep in a long time, and I don’t exactly have high expectations in the sleep department.  Good nights of sleep ended seven years ago, and they haven’t come back yet.  Getting out of bed once or twice is the norm, as is getting woken up at 5 AM by a half-pint.

That night, though, was a monster.  We had three different sick kids crawl into our bed in the course of the night looking for snuggles.  Thank goodness for king-sized beds.  Although, the size of the bed doesn’t seem to matter:  any child takes up at least half, and then my husband and I get squished onto whatever remains.  I lost count of how many times I crawled out of the crowded bed to dose pain reliever, drinks of water, or find missing blankets.  When morning came on Christmas Eve, my Christmas spirit was decidedly surly.

Naps, though, do make things much better.  A nap for us all helped everyone feel functional enough to head to Christmas Eve church, and of course, kids mustered the energy to open a few presents before heading to bed that night.

Big smiles with a new blanket on the night before Christmas.

Big smiles with a new blanket on the night before Christmas.

Even with a crew of sick and half-sick kids, I have to say, on the night of Christmas Eve I felt filled to the brim with happiness.  As I held our 20-month-old and she nursed to sleep, I had a moonlit view of a snowy yard and our barn and silo.  On that peaceful, silent night, it felt like Christmas, and it felt like home.  I held a sweet, funny, beautiful little girl in my arms.  A few hours before, our family filled a church pew with four kids decked out in their holiday clothes.  Nobody lit anyone else on fire during the candlelit portion of the service, and until they petered out, we had a lot of joyful noise in our house on Christmas Eve.

I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

Snuggling in with the new Christmas blankets before bed on Christmas Eve.

Snuggling in with the new Christmas blankets before bed on Christmas Eve.

My ideal Christmas is a little Norman Rockwell mixed with a little of the Griswold family from the movie Christmas Vacation.  And that is pretty doable.  On Christmas Day, we had a fine candlelit turkey dinner at noon in our pajamas with a few sides of ibuprofen.

Special thanks to children's ibuprofen, the unofficial sponsor of the Mosdals' Christmas.

Special thanks to children’s ibuprofen, the unofficial sponsor of the Mosdals’ Christmas.

Afternoon naps (highly valued at our house) followed by warm baths for achy kids gave everyone enough steam for a Christmas supper at Grandma’s.  Thirty-seven people, if my tally is correct, made Grandma’s house bursting full and slightly chaotic.  And if you’re from a big family like me, that feels just about right.

Having too much fun to leave early from Grandma’s, we earned ourselves a full-fledged Christmas Meltdown because we got home late, and three kids cried during most of the bedtime process.

The day after Christmas felt like holiday hangover.  Two very sick kiddos, one so-so, and one just tired, all of us were worn out from the rush of Christmas excitement.  On days like that, I don’t know where the time goes, but it stretches on and on in repetitive motions of holding, comforting, dosing, and stepping over Christmas toys.  I never have enough arms.

In that exhausting day, one of the highlights was seeing my sick, listless six-year-old eat two bowls of steaming homemade turkey noodle soup.  She hadn’t wanted anything because her throat hurt too much, but I put some in front of her anyway.  Slowly one bowl disappeared, and then another.  Afterward, she perked up and said her throat felt better, at least momentarily.  It was a small triumph in an otherwise exhausting mothering marathon.

My other highlight that day was seeing my husband pull in the driveway with a trailer full of wood in tow.  He and my brother-in-law spent the afternoon cutting and loading wood, and happiness is the sight of plenty of wood for a cozy, warm house.  Happiness is also seeing another parent return home to help share the load of sick kids.

And today, my Christmas vacation outing will be a visit to the Fast Care Clinic with my daughter.  We’re making the 45-minute drive to Rochester to play every parent’s favorite game:  “Is It Strep or Is It Just a Virus?”  If we guess correctly that it’s strep, we’ll be rewarded with a bottle of pink amoxicillin.  If we guess incorrectly, we’ll go home with some wonderful parting gifts:  free new germs from the clinic, and a complimentary wasted afternoon.  The best part, though, of the “Is It Strep or Is It A Virus?” game is that win or lose, every player receives a generous clinic bill just for participating.  Oooh, I can hardly wait.

‘Tis the season for sore throats and achy bodies, but all isn’t lost on this Christmas vacation.  As I write this, we’ve still got five days of vacation time left.  I predict a full recovery of the household, and ringing in the New Year with busy bodies ready to hit the sledding hill.  Just the same, I’ll replenish my stash of medicine while I’m in town today.

Wishing all of you a healthy New Year!

Snowmobile Gas, Scraped Ceilings, and Pine Needles: What Christmas Memories are Made Of

I can’t remember the last time I went out and helped cut down a Christmas tree. By my estimation, it’s been about twenty years.

While that hardly seems possible, my mental tally confirms that all-too-big number. However, this past weekend I rectified that tree-cutting deficiency. We went out to Saratoga and hunted down a trophy worthy of mounting in the living room. It stands over eight feet tall, just shy of scraping the nine foot ceilings in our living room, and our children decorated it beautifully. Well, to be more accurate, they thoroughly decorated the bottom four feet with slightly smashed ornaments that they made last year, but I think it’s perfect.

That tree-cutting event brought back some of my very favorite Christmas tree hunting memories. One tree in particular stands out in my memory. The behemoth. The one that scraped the sparkly textured ceiling, causing Mom to scream and yell in horror. I was six years old at the time, and it was GRAND.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Snowmobile Gas
The tree came from the back of our farm. That year it was snowy, so we fired up our snowmobiles for the tree hunt. That alone made the tree hunting wonderful. Our snowmobiles, which we always referred to by their given names, the Panther and El Tigre, were the tree hunting vehicles. I rode in the Cat Cutter, hooked onto the back of one of the snowmobiles. The Cat Cutter was a magnificent 1970’s snowcoach that hooked on the back of a snowmobile, meant for hauling an extra kid or two. We would usually wedge in at least three of us. I knew back then that the Cat Cutter was the essence of cool. I loved hopping in and getting rides, and I still remember the tiger print fabric on the inside.

So we rode out in snowmobiles to the back of the farm. We parked in front of the towering evergreen trees. I remember struggling to plow my short legs through the deep snow to get closer to the trees. Then, like brothers and sisters are supposed to do, a good half dozen of my older siblings proceeded to argue and discuss which tree top would make the best Christmas tree. At six, I had no voting power, so I mostly stayed quiet.

Settling on a good tree, one of my brothers (either David or Mike) climbed up the giant evergreen while carrying the hand saw, and slowly lopped off the top. I remember watching the tree top wiggle and shake, and finally, seeing the awesome crash of the tree top falling to the ground. TIMBER! It was fabulous.

If I remember correctly, on this particular year, we misjudged the height of the tree top from our vantage point on the ground, and the first one that he lopped off was way too short. I recall some choice angry words over who was to blame for the short tree snafu. Somehow, while standing hot and sweaty in the cold snow, it didn’t sound appealing to my brother to climb another tree, perch in branches, and wield a saw to lop off another magical Christmas memory. Nonetheless, he climbed up another tree and sawed off another tree top.

It seems that we erred on the side of long on the second go round, but we didn’t fully know that until later.

Task accomplished, my brothers jerked the starter cords a few times to fire up the snowmobiles, filling the cold winter air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of snowmobile gas. I do love that smell. To me, the scent of snowmobile gas, like the scent of wood smoke, is the smell of a good time.

We piled back on the snowmobiles and I climbed into the Cat Cutter. Flashes of the ride back to the house forever etched themselves in my memory: cold, crisp air that burned in my nose when I sucked in, red cheeks, wiping my runny nose on my mittens, a fine spray of snow blowing into my face, ducking my head out of the wind, holding out my mitten-covered hands to catch the snow, and the smell of snowmobile gas and the sound of engines through it all.

Runny nose?  Cold?  Snow spray in the face?  As an adult it doesn’t sound all that appealing. As a kid, though, I was a little Minnesotan girl in winter heaven. I was six years old, out with my brothers and sisters on a Christmas tree mission, riding home on snowmobiles and dragging a tree after cutting it down and watching it fall. I knew it was one of the most glorious moments of my life, one of those moments so spectacular that I couldn’t believe it was real, and I didn’t want it to end.

Scraped Ceilings
That wonderful tree, like the Grinch’s heart, seemingly grew several sizes. We arrived home and after stuffing, tugging, and pushing, they crammed the tree through the front door, and then SCRAAAAAPE! A long scratch, forever commemorating that year’s tree, gouged into Mom’s sparkly textured ceiling. Mom’s ensuing yelling? Yep, I still remember that, too. As horrifying as wrecking Mom’s ceiling was, oh man, that tree was ever so grand.

They perched the tree under the peak of our vaulted ceiling, and it nearly touched the peak when upright, soaring over twice as tall as most of the people in my family at the time. It filled a gigantic area in our gigantic living room, and of course, it was all the more glorious to my six-year-old perspective.

My sister, Sues, took a Christmas morning picture of me in front of that tree. In the picture I’m sitting in blue rose pajamas. I remember not liking those pajamas that mom made for one of my older brothers, and I remember thinking that my hair was messy, so I didn’t want my picture taken. But now I look back at that, and I love it. In the background is an astonishing mound of Christmas presents. If we got something, it usually came to us at Christmas time. We didn’t get birthday presents, so that was the one gift time of the year. With a dozen siblings, most still living at home at the time, Christmas day was huge.

That year was also the year of The Cabbage Patch Kid baby. THE one, that I longingly looked at every time we went into the hardware store in Plainview.

On Christmas morning, I was the first one awake. I sifted through the wrapped boxes and pulled out what I thought was my Cabbage Patch. I set it aside on the couch, ready to be opened as soon as I had the green light go ahead when everyone else got out of bed. After patiently waiting through the Today Show, everyone finally came downstairs, and I finally got to open my doll. Like a six-year-old dreams, it was just the one that I’d wanted. I finally could hold it in my arms. I think it’s still floating around in the toy box at my mom’s house, and my six-year-old daughter now occasionally plays with it.

Of all my childhood Christmases, that is probably the Christmas I remember the best: At six, I was at the peak of believing in all the magic of Christmas. We rode out on snowmobiles to get a gigantic tree that forever scratched the ceiling, and Santa brought the very doll that I’d longingly wanted for months.

kathy tree 2012

Kathy, circa 2012, sawing a few lumberjack swipes at this year’s tree with her family in the background.

Pine Needles
With my own kids, I don’t know what memories will forever etch into their hearts. I don’t know yet what they’ll look back on and laughingly tell stories about when they’re grown up. I do know, though, that Christmas this year is special. It is our first Christmas in our new house, the house we are going to live in “forever”, and we have four young kids who believe in the magic of Santa and the wonder of Christmas. I think heading out and sawing down our tree is a good start on the holiday. Timber!

The Value of a Child-Friendly Nativity Set

Mary and the angel lost their heads this week at our house.  Baby Jesus?  He’s MIA.   It’s ok, though, we have a spare Jesus at ready.

At our house, the nativity set is hands-on.  We get out the tacky glue, and Mary and the angel get back to the action, ready for small hands.  We like lots of traffic around the manger.

In many people’s homes, nativity sets are ornately beautiful and fragile, set up on display as a look-but-don’t-touch Christmas decoration.  I appreciate those beautiful sets; there is a certain amount of reverence inherent in beautiful things.  Some day I’d love to have a set like that.  But right now, that’s just not the way we live.

baby jesus

We are a household with four young kids. I don’t really have a place to set up a fragile nativity set without fear, and I don’t want to anyway.

Our little wooden stable and nativity set currently reside in the dining room on top of my grandma’s sewing machine table.  At children’s eye level.  To make it accessible to even our littlest one, I put the step stool right next to the nativity set.

One of the sheep in our nativity is a three-time amputee.  He now spends his time laying down.  We have a wiseman that lost his legs, another is missing part of his crown.  You get the picture.

We have a backup nativity set, though, so we can create a full “cast” by combining the two sets.

The nativity set figurines sit next to our Little Golden Book called The Christmas Story, a simple version of the Bible story with beautiful traditional artwork.  The nativity set and the story go hand in hand, and we can grab the book and read it whenever the mood strikes.

I give my cousin, Annie, the credit for this child-friendly arrangement.  A few years ago, I spotted a picture on her facebook page: an adorable wooden, hand-painted child’s nativity set, rearranged in some sort of humorous configuration by her young son.  This struck a chord with me, and thus began a quest for a nativity set for our children.

While I loved my cousin’s set, the hefty price tag for that nativity didn’t sound feasible for me.  I’m too busy (or really, just too lazy) to keep track of expensive little figurines that our dog might chew up.

I then looked at the nativity set made by Little People.  While I love those little figures as toys, I didn’t want them as a nativity set because they really just look like another toy.  I wanted the nativity figures to look more realistic, and somehow different from “just another toy.”  Not finding what I wanted in any stores, I hunted around on the internet and almost bought a set there.

Inspiration struck, though, and I headed to the thrift store.

Eureka!  I found a classic wooden stable, complete with a working(!) light.  Conveniently attached was a plastic nativity set with traditional-looking figures, super-glued in place.  I spotted and then snatched up another nativity set made of resin for a few bucks more.

Those figurines seemed like just the ones: worn just enough to not worry about future nicks, and very similar to the set from my childhood.  For less than fifteen dollars, I now possess a lighted wooden stable and two nativity sets, one plastic and one resin.

Wanting an interactive nativity set experience for my kids, I pried off the plastic figurines that came super-glued to the stable.  One king refused to budge, as did all three sheep, which tend to be stubborn animals.

It’s not quite perfect, but it’s not meant to be, which actually makes it perfect.  From a distance, the set looks nice, and up close, the apparent wear and tear makes our nativity fuss-free for our kids.

So why do I intentionally allow my children to potentially damage these semi-sacred objects?

We all know that children benefit from hands-on learning.  Both educators and parents alike know that children learn by seeing, touching, and doing.  So often, though, when it comes to “the reason for the season,” people set up nativity sets that are off-limits to children.  To me, that looks like a missed opportunity for learning.

Child-friendly nativity sets provide the visual and tactile opportunity for kids to engage with the Christmas story.  Learning about something that happened so long ago is an abstract concept, but seeing, touching, and manipulating the characters in the story helps kids to sort it all out and create understanding.  The teacher in me likes that.

And the kid in me says it’s just plain fun.

When I took out our nativity set and stable for the season, I never actually pointed it out to our kids.  I just set it up, turned on the stable light (“open for business”), and waited.

A few hours later, I noticed our 19-month-old daughter sitting on the step stool, playing with the figures.  I overheard her little monologue: “Mama, baby.” “Dada!” Then the holy family climbed the roof of the stable, “Stays (stairs)…up, up, up!”  Soon the wisemen took turns riding on the cow, “Weee!!”

Perched on a step stool, our baby plays with our child-friendly nativity set.

Perched on a step stool, our baby plays with our child-friendly nativity set.

As she played, I told her the names of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.  That’s enough for her for now.

Our kids aren’t always reverent with the figurines.  I already mentioned the missing heads.  Sometimes the donkey fights with the cow, and sometimes the figures are stacked in pig pile fashion.  Kids are kids, after all.

However, our 19-month-old often carries baby Jesus around the house saying, “Aww, baby,” and lovingly kisses him and gently covers him up with tiny blankets.

My three-year-old son, also a baby lover, has the same reaction.  When he plays with the nativity set, he always makes sure that baby Jesus has his mom and dad close at hand.  And after seeing and playing with the set at home, he can easily name the “characters” in the story when he sees them in other places, like church or TV.

One night as I read The Christmas Story book to our kids, my six-year-old daughter jumped up off the couch and grabbed the nativity figures.  Giggling and using exaggerated gestures for comedic effect, she made the figures act out the play as I read the book.  Afterward she took an especially grand bow, and we clapped.

I think the person who said “let the little children come to me” would approve.

And as for Mary and the angel, they might lose their heads again before Christmas, but hey, don’t we all sometimes?