Here in my small New Hampshire town, we take our garbage and recycling to the dump, or “transfer station” if we’re being proper. One of the highlights of the dump is visiting the swap shop — a room loaded with either trash or treasure, depending on your perspective. It’s one of my favorite places to go and Mama’s, too. Forget NH’s natural beauty. Whenever she comes to visit, she always asks, “When are we going to the dump?”
Away in a (Whacky) Manger
Last year, I couldn’t help but notice the fabulous nativity scene that swap shop attendant and fellow artist Evelien Bachrach created. Sure, baby Jesus lays in a manger (with blonde hair, which of course every Jewish man sported 2,000 years ago), and some version of Mary watches over him, but the rest of the characters make up a motley crew of discarded items. There are chickens, a pig, what might be a rabid red dog, alarmed sheep, and a small Trojan horse-like ornament. There’s no Joseph, shepherds, or wise men to be seen, but there’s an African woman in native dress (or maybe she’s from the islands) and Frosty the Snow Man, who looks like he’s cross-dressing with Little Bo Peep. Santa looks concerned, the angel’s content with her doll, and a plaster Teddy bear — joyous despite the hole in his stomach — stands guard. A handmade star hangs from a yellow plastic push pin and just over the particle board roofline, a plate that looks like a photographed pepperoni pizza completes the tableau.
A Christmas Metaphor
To me, this nativity scene provides a handy metaphor for our lives.
Sure we’d like our lives to be a matched set, with all the right parts and players present, to appear dignified so we feel like we have some control. But the truth is, our lives are messy and chipped, and some of the important parts and players are missing. Instead of hosting a conventional family for Christmas dinner where we use the good china, we serve a rag tag group that includes a cross-dressing Frosty the Snowman who eats off a photographed pepperoni pizza plate. Personally, I think that’s much more interesting.
And I think our messy lives make Jesus happy, because there is nothing judgmental or conventional about Jesus. He was always hanging out on the fringes, with the folks that didn’t quite fit in, with the discarded and the despised — lepers, prostitutes, and refugees, an important point to remember this particular Christmas. To Jesus, everybody was family, no matter how different or crazy or broken they might be.
And Speaking of Families
Starting December 15, I’ll be part of The Moth Radio Hour’s Second Annual Holiday Show, which will be broadcast over more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. I’ll be telling “The Tricia Ball,” a story about my parents’ divorce, our Christmas “celebrations,” and the ornament Daddy made for me when I was very little. The story resonates with anyone who’s ever tried to navigate family drama and heartbreak at a time when we’re supposed to be happy. But as always, humor and redemption can abound even in the bleakest situations.
If you miss the radio show, the story will be available on their podcast beginning December 22. And you can always go to The Moth and listen to the show online.
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