Baby Jesus: Still the star of the Christmas show

(Photo: Granddaughter Bella, daughter Star, Suzette, and granddaughter Lulu)

Christmas is enchanting. Maybe it’s the twinkling lights on frosty streets, the aroma of holiday baking or merry music everywhere. For me, it’s a magical return to childhood. When I was little, the Infant Jesus began my family’s exciting lead-up to his birthday.

My mother would carry the Baby Jesus down from a closet shelf to an “altar” in the living room. He was life-sized, made in Italy, with caramel-colored glass eyes and a delicately painted bisque body. He would lay on a doll-sized manger with real hay.  My parents couldn’t afford the other creche characters, so the Holy Infant went solo.

I never thought of Baby Jesus as an orphan.  Back then, we three kids oohed and aahed around him as the “new” member of our family each December.

My mother was reverent, “Be careful, he’s not a toy.  He’s Jesus.”

My father was practical. “If you kids break it, that’s it.”

My parents were Filipino immigrants, steeped in the Catholic faith.  We had altars in the hallway and bedrooms.  Two big pictures of Jesus and Mary, side by side, had eyes that seemed to follow me.  As a child, I’d make my mind go blank, clear out any thought crimes, each time I had to pass the pictures.

Christmas preparations were very exciting for my mother.  In the Philippines, the big celebrations happen on Christmas Eve.  During my childhood growing up in San Francisco, it meant a big feast, opening presents, midnight Mass, and more food.

I don’t recall anything about Santa’s naughty or nice list, or that a new Barbie could poof into a bag of coal if I didn’t behave. I do remember my mother’s excitement about angels, the birth of the King of Kings, and how much God loves us no matter what.  Always in the present tense.  “Now it’s our turn to remember him,” she’d say as we’d set out for midnight Mass.  Hearing Christmas carols about angels, shepherds, and divine glories lifted my young spirit on wings of gratitude.

I didn’t grow up with a God premised on wrath and punishment.  To me, God was both invisible and avuncular.   Maybe sad and disappointed when I didn’t act on my higher instincts, but always willing to brush aside the past and start over. 

This is how my mother spoke of God.  It felt as real and convincing as the love of my aunts who lived in the Philippines. I never doubted their love because my mother spoke of her sisters often as if they were present. Invisible as they were, I believed my aunts knew us and we knew them. Perhaps, it’s how we form an attachment to the unseen. 

Decades later, the Baby Jesus is the star of our Christmas, now surrounded by the full complement of creche companions, placed there by my two granddaughters. 

Watching the twinkling lights reflected on frosty streets, I can still feel an inner hallelujah.

This column ran in the Patriot Ledger and nationally through GateHouse Media on 12/20/2018.

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Suzette Standring

SUZETTE MARTINEZ STANDRING is a nationally syndicated columnist with GateHouse Media. Her two award winning books, The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists (2014) and The Art of Column Writing (2008) are used in journalism courses such as Johns Hopkins University. Suzette is a past president of The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the host of It’s All Write With Suzette, a cable TV show about writing. Visit www.readsuzette.com or email suzmar@comcast.net
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Comments

  1. Suzette, this is such a beautiful and warm story. Not only of childhood Chritmas memories, but of the real reasonfor the season, of the true loving heart behind God. In these days of over commercialized Christmas, it is so refreshing to read such a deeply touching tale. Is your current baby Jesus the original from your childhood?!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family 🎄

    • Thank you, Christine! Those feelings were instilled very early in my childhood and with such authenticity from my mother who is now passed, but has to hold a high award for being one of the kindest people on the planet. I know I’m not alone. Many folks have such memories, but maybe feel shy to share them. After a while a steady diet of Santa and reindeer tastes so saccharin but the true sweetness of Christmas never fades for me.

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