My youngest daughter Sabrina’s version of “Jingle Bells” was mostly on-key, but the lyrics were hopelessly butchered. The Kindergartener sang absently as she sat on the floor happily playing with the figures from an Advent calendar:
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingles on the wave.
Oh what fun, what a long, long song
for a white horse eating hay…
The lilting rendition made me smile. She lovingly caressed each calendar piece, then placed it into a circle that would enclose Baby Jesus.
Sabrina abruptly stopped singing. “Mommy, where’s the baby?” she said with a perplexed look.
Baby Jesus had gone missing again. I understood, because the only Christmas decoration in our home that ever seemed to disappear was a Baby Jesus. Everything else stayed safely packed from year to year, but Baby Jesus was always on the road.
My first runaway was the Baby Jesus from a Nativity scene. He was a no-show back when my sons, Andy and Patrick, now in their 20s, were Preschoolers. After a desperate search of the house that did not yield results, I set out on a shopping excursion to find a suitable replacement. This was not easy.
First, most Nativity figures can only be purchased as a set, not by the piece. Second, they are not found in many stores. Third, being so close to Christmas, many of the stores that carried them were sold out by the time I conducted my frantic quest. I was, however, driven with determination to procure a Baby Jesus to complete our Nativity scene. My children were home waiting expectantly for Mommy to fill the empty cradle. I was not about to disappoint. Ultimately, I was not able to find the exact brand, but I did obtain a Baby Jesus that could reasonably pass for my Mary and Joseph’s baby.
The next year, as I set up the Nativity scene, the replacement Baby Jesus slipped from my fingers and took a devastating tumble. His fragile head had split in two and one of the arms cracked off. My sons’ eyes were wide with horror as they scrambled to collect the pieces, even those that bounced away into an unseen corner. After an intense search, they located the missing parts except for two fingers. Super Glue did not do the trick. My children were not satisfied with a Baby Jesus laced with cracks across his features and a couple of missing fingers. Once again, I raced to the store to purchase a replacement Baby Jesus.
For about five years we didn’t have any Baby Jesus issues. But when my middle kids Gina and Jay were preschoolers, it was the Advent calendar Baby Jesus’ turn to get wanderlust.
I have owned the Advent calendar since Andy and Patrick were toddlers. It is made of colorful cloth and has a large Christmas tree at the top and below are numbered pockets that house friendly, puffy characters before they are placed on the Christmas tree. The Advent calendar ritual had always been one of the highlights of the parade of days that lead up to Christmas for all six of my children.
Fortunately, the year that Advent calendar Baby Jesus went on a Sabbatical, my mother was on hand. She sewed us the most adorable replacement. My mom’s Baby Jesus was sleeping and swaddled, with peacefully closed eyes and a rosebud mouth. The original Baby Jesus was wide awake, grinning immensely with arms flailed open. He looked liked trouble. I was not terribly surprised when he took off. Five months later I was startled to find out that the absence was not his fault.
As I searched my refrigerator to ascertain whether I had any unexpired raspberry sauce to drizzle on French toast, my son Jay and I discovered a stowaway; Grinning Baby Jesus. The Advent calendar icon had been chilling behind the maraschino cherries nestled between the capers and horseradish sauce.
I stared in shock and puzzlement at four-year-old Jay. AWOL Baby Jesus was frozen into a mask of red syrup. I extracted the frosted figure from in between the condiments and peeled at the gelatinous cherry juice on its head. Jay stoically looked at Baby Jesus, and then at me.
“I put him there,” he said.
“What, why?” I stammered in confusion.
“I don’t know,” was the reply.
And so, for a few more years after that, our home had two Advent calendar Baby Jesuses. The original one had returned from the arctic chill to join my mother’s hand-sewn version.
Last year, my mother’s handmade Baby Jesus took a hiatus. I noticed, but did not draw attention to the fact. The children did not notice. One was certainly enough.
Now, Sabrina has discovered that both Advent calendar Baby Jesuses are missing. I can only assume they are on some grand adventure together. Perhaps we shall eventually find them hanging out in the pantry, or the garage toolbox or maybe in one of my hopelessly disorganized closets. Until then, we will hold open Baby Jesus’ spot in the Advent calendar’s gold-thread-edged pocket. Sabrina will have to make due until the conclusion of the Traveling Baby Jesus’ field trip. There’s still room for two, if he decides to bring a friend.