Sunday, December 1, 2013

An Empty Manger Christmas Tradition

Years ago I was reading from a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and there was a story in there that talked about the empty manger under the Christmas tree.  I tucked it away in my memory because I knew, someday, when I had a family I would want to have this tradition as a part of our Decembers.  
Last year we made up a handful of mangers.  We gave the mangers, straw and a little note explaining the tradition.  This is the little poem I wrote as a simple explanation.
Manger Family Tradition 
There sits an empty manger under the tree.
Come Christmas morning there baby Jesus will be.
Prepare a place for him to rest.
By loving and caring for others and doing your very best.

(I am certainly no poet, so feel free to edit!)

Place the manger under your Christmas Tree. Explain to your children that Baby Jesus will arrive Christmas morning and needs a place to sleep. It is their task during the month to be kind and to care for others and each time they do so, they will receive, a handful of hay to place in the manger.  The hope is to prepare a place for Jesus when he is born on Christmas day. 

Come Christmas morning place a baby doll in the manger. This way when they awake Christmas morning to find their presents they also find the greatest present of all! Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Usually after the presents are opened we read the nativity story from Luke or from the Jesus Storybook Bible. 

This year my oldest son is almost 5 and my second son is almost 3.  They are starting to understand the meaning of Christmas even more.  Lachlan, my oldest, is really beginning to grasp the meaning of this tradition and that God desires us to be kind to others, during the Christmas season and all year long.  My hope, as we continue this tradition, is to keep track of all the little moments that arise around the Empty Manger and our preparation for Jesus.  

One moment so far this year occurred when Peter, my 3 year old, came up to the manger, and being a little stinker, grabbed handfuls of straw and dumped it on the floor.  As I told him to stop he just kept on going.  So of course he had to visit time out.  As I was placing him on time out, Lachlan quickly jumped up.  "Mom, I will help you." He helped me pick up all the straw and of course, for being so helpful and kind, I gave him an additional handful to add to the Manger.  I told him that God loves it when we help each other.  

As my kids grow, I envision having conversations at the dinner table.  Asking them if they showed the love of God to anyone at school today?  Maybe even bigger plans like volunteering as a family or helping out a neighbor in need. And of course always trying to catch them in a moment of kindness.  If, as teenagers, they start to find our tradition a bit corny.  Maybe we can add straw as a family after dinner each night upon our reflection on the day.  

I think that is what I love most about this tradition.  It can be adapted to fit your family, with the basic idea remaining the same.  Focusing on the true "present" of Christmas, Jesus,  why he came to this earth and what he has taught us about how to love one another.

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus
 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. 
* I feel it's important to keep record here of how the tradition has changed as we as a family have changed.  This year (2015) my boys are almost 7, 5 and 2.  We have recently been talking a lot about the fruit of the spirit which ties perfectly into this tradition.  This year, each time I see one of my children act out a fruit of the spirit, I name the fruit and give them their hay for the manger. Now that we have 3 children contributing to the manger I can't give too much away too fast so my hand fulls have gotten smaller!

For the fruit of the spirit is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
"Mommy, it was me! I did it!"  Adam (2.5) exclaims when I ask who filled the manger.
This year, 2016, we have a 2 and a half year old who complicates things a bit.  But he is enjoying the manger and I could not be happier.  I just hope his older brothers  understand when the tradition is not quite as formal as it has been in the past.  

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