The remembrances of treasured people, things, and times that we hold dear in the bleak mid-winter – that is the story of Christmas

This week, First Person celebrates the joys of Christmastime.
Illustration by Heidi Berton
My mothers voice over the telephone connection was unusually restrained as she clearly struggled to control pent up emotional turmoil. From my Toronto sublet I gripped the receiver more firmly, bracing myself for the worst possible news. Surely someone must have died. But who?
And then, in strangled and passion-imbued words, my mother choked out the dreadful news; news that would alter our fast approaching Christmas in ways I could not have anticipated: THE GODDAMN DOG ATE THE BABY JESUS!
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Collapsing in sobs, she surrendered the telephone to my father as my mind did some rapid neurological shifts to take in the news. Before I had quite come to grips with it, my father was on the line, overwhelmed with emotion of a different nature.
Dad, is it true? (My mother was renowned for gifted and extreme hyperbole.)
My father, too, struggled to speak but, in his case, it was because of helpless laughter. Chewed him to smithereens nothing left but a scrap of swaddling cloth and a curl of golden fleece.
This was bad. Really bad. Jesus was big in our house. Literally and figuratively. As a small child I had dared to suggest that the Jesus figurine starring in our nativity scene was disproportionately large in comparison to the stalwart Joseph and the understandably exhausted and beleaguered Mary. In my humble opinion, the baby Jesus, meek and mild, not only dwarfed the sheep, the goats and the manger dogs but could probably have given the camels parked outside a run for their drachmas.
My youthful questioning went unappreciated and was quickly shut down. The figurine was a precious family treasure, a long-ago gift from my mothers mother and, when it came to the Christmas decorations, baby Jesus was a rock star. He had been expertly, if sturdily, fashioned in Italy of some kind of wax (no doubt contributing to the desirability and chewability of his person) and swaddled in a tasteful loincloth, one arm held gracefully aloft in the manner of a blessing. His little wax head was topped by a helmet of tightly wound curls, giving him the effect of an impressively rigid perm.
And yet, this revered family heirloom had been defrocked, dewigged and digested by our golden retriever/spaniel mix rescue dog with the unlikely but appropriate moniker of the Duffer.
The Duffer and my mother had never been close and this current contretemps did nothing to thaw any ice between them.
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Life has a way of going on and Christmas comes whether you are ready for it or not, so our family nativity scene was forced to go on without its star performer while the search began for a suitable replacement. In the meantime, Jesus was subbed in by a pink eraser and later a large blue marble. Neither really did the trick but, in my view, Mary looked more relaxed.
In fact, these temporary substitutions and stand-ins seemed to spur my father on to ever greater flights of creative interpretation of scripture leading to a curious parade of guest stars in our little Egyptian idyll. It would doubtless cause some revisionist theories among New Testament scholars to learn that evidently, Gumby was present at the birth of Jesus and that the three wise kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and a great big jujube.
But I digress.
In the fullness of time, the Duffer went to his eternal reward and, having closely experienced Jesus here on Earth, I have no doubt he was welcomed into the heavenly halls without demur or delay. Also in the fullness of time, a new dog took her place in my parents home. In concert with her arrival and, after a long and gruelling audition process, a new wax Jesus appeared in the family nativity scene. Appropriate and decorous peace appeared to, at last, have been restored and all seemed merry as a sleigh bell. For a while.
Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of dogs when the hour grows late and the smell of Italian wax curls its seductive path up a canine nostril? We hear much of the Second Coming but sadly, perhaps inevitably, a little border collie mix called Katie was responsible for the Second Going. Thats when the industrial strength glass was installed on the outside of the manger.
Fortunately, the kidnapper had been apprehended mid-heist. My father was exhorted to do something! So, in addition to coming up with the shield of Plexiglas, he employed a small welding utensil to reattach Jesus to his various extremities and his impermeable gilded toupée. Less fortunately, my enthusiastic father slightly overdid the heat gun, rendering Jesus with one extravagantly long arm, giving him the seasonably appropriate look of having carried rather a lot of Christmas packages for rather a long time. Still, he had arms. He had survived. He graces the Christmas season to this day.
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The little manger endures, the small beloved figures have seen more Christmases than I remember. And as the firelight gleams against the glass, I keep a weather eye on two eager and interested German shepherds, and acknowledge that it is the stories of our lives, the remembrances of treasured people, things and times that we hold dear in the bleak mid-winter. It is this we keep. And it is this that is the story of Christmas.
Holly Larocque lives in Ottawa.
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