In 1974 I came home from my semester in Madrid with a nativity set, or nacimiento as they are called in Spain. I first bought a “starter set” of Mary, Joseph and little baby Jesus (on a white fuzzy cloth) plus an angel to hang overhead, a donkey and a cow. As the weeks passed and we got closer to Christmas, I added a set of 3 kings on camels (with camel drivers in matching garb), several shepherds and a few fuzzy sheep. I used some of my last pesetas buying a stable in the Plaza Mayor the day before my flight home.
Every year for 36 years I’ve set up my nacimiento, carefully placing the figures in appropriate relationship to each other. The donkey is behind Mary, the cow behind Joseph to her right, and baby Jesus on the ground between them (my stable didn’t have any managers; it was a cheap model). The angel hung from a sewing pin stuck in the stable. The shepherds and sheep were scattered around to the left and front, while the kings and their color-coordinated camel drivers were in order to the right, moving closer each day until it got to Epiphany. Oh, and I had two little plastic palm trees for ambience.
I have loved this nativity and setting it up every year reminded me of that time in a distant place (pre-Internet, no less) and the friends and world I was part of. I see my landlady’s little grandson showing me how the figures should be set up, and watch myself shopping in the Plaza Mayor to add to my growing little family. I see my roommates smiles as we sat in our room gabbing with the then-stable-less nativity set up on one of the bookshelves. I remember finally getting home and setting it up under the Christmas tree for my family to see in the morning.
The figures have not held up very well, but then they’re 36 years old and weren’t all that well made in the first place. The stable is starting to fall apart, the shepherds are losing arms, the sheep’s legs fell off, and the kings and Holy Family have paint chipped off their faces. Baby Jesus looks fine, though, but the rest looks …. shabby.
So this year when I set up my Christmas decorations, the nativity won’t be part of it. It feels disrespectful to put it up when it’s so worn out and tattered. After so many years, I’ve said goodbye to it. I don’t need to see it to remember Christmases past, the places and the people that were part of it. Vaya con Dios, nacimiento mio.