Every year just before Christmas, my grandfather invited me to help him set up the manger sceneon his fireplace mantel.
The stable was made of cardboard but it had a picture of a gray donkeyand real straw on the floor. Carefully, we unwrapped each figure from tissue paper: Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Twoshepherds and two sheep; three wise men and one camel. A cow. Grandpa explained that we could only afford to add one new figure each year. He invited me to place the people and animals where I thought they should go—and I spent timegetting the scene just right. Then I cut out a piece of felt to put in the manger because the strawwas prickly. Grandpa had rigged up a little light behind the star-shaped window and when he plugged it in, asoft yellow glow made everything come alive. I could hear the animals breathing. Somehow, I inherited the manger scene and I remember the first time I set it up as an adult,noticing that the figures were made of cheap plaster. They had seemed so precious to me, theway they were each wrapped in tissue paper. The way I still wrap them.