Members of my daughter’s family put out their Nativity scene last week, a set of ceramic figures shaped and hand-painted by my mother years ago.
In total, the scene consists of Mary, Joseph, a shepherd boy with what appears to be a dead lamb draped over his shoulders, two more sheep, a cow, three wise men bearing gifts, and two camels. Oh, and the Savior.
That’s a lot to cram into a low-rent stable, which is where I’ve always been taught Jesus was born. As a kid, I was always disappointed that there weren’t any dogs or cats, which — given the rats and mice at the time — is where you would expect to find them hanging around.
My guess is that such depictions are intended to represent the holy birth in the wider sense, and not the actual moment. That’s good, because in this Nativity set Jesus looks to be about a year old, and he’s wearing a crown.
If you’re looking for accuracy in history, my guess is that Nativity scenes aren’t the place to find it — or to whine about it when you don’t. People have been putting their own spin on the event for more than 2,000 years.
Given the number of halos, crowns, valuables and other things on display, the scene upstairs has a lot of Catholic nuance to it.
My grandmother’s handcarved Nativity included an angel with a pair of wings. Grandma took a knife to it because Latter-day Saints don’t believe in angels with wings. Doctrine aside, a wingless angel hanging over the manger made it look like someone had gotten lynched for Christmas.
Oddly, Mary is the only female in most manger scenes. I don’t know why this is, considering that birth back then wasn’t exactly a solitary affair. Other women were sure to have helped. Unless, of course, it was a matter of money. Mary and Joseph were a bit cash strapped until the Magi showed up.
Never mind the finances. Why is Christ’s arrival largely a male affair? Some will argue it’s because men wrote the Bible. No one can really say what happened during Jesus’ birth.
Years ago, as a cop, I helped birth a baby on the front seat of a pickup truck. Even with three EMTs, the husband, and a cop, Mom was the only woman present.
I should have saved a copy of the report I wrote. I wonder how it would read after 2,000 years of fine-tuning.
I know for a fact that I didn’t mention the make and model of the car, that two horses watched the event over a fence, or that the woman kicked one of the EMTs in the face.
I distinctly recall, however, making note of the fact that the baby was born alive. That part, the most important, seemed to be the thing I should get on the record. But who knows how it will read centuries from now?
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.