From Nazareth to Bethlehem: Reviving an Old Tradition

When I was a child, our miniature stable sat empty throughout the advent season. Visitors to our home might have wondered where Mary and Joseph and company had made off to, but a discerning eye could detect their whereabouts, in every corner of the room.

My mother, a kindergarten teacher, knew the value of tactile/kinesthetic learning (I think even before there was a term for it!). She provided opportunities for her children to discover the Christmas story by being actively involved in it.

So each year, Mary, Joseph and their donkey would “travel” from Nazareth to Bethlehem: from the book shelf to the planter to the piano, day by day moving closer to their Christmas Eve destination and resting place, the stable. The wise men stayed fixed on the fireplace (they came from the east), while shepherds watched their flocks by end table.

In the weeks before Christmas, I spent time playing alone in the living room while my mother worked nearby in the kitchen and my sisters and dad were off doing bigger-kid stuff. Joseph and Mary talked about the long journey ahead of them. Mary complained about her sore back, being “great with child.” The shepherds ran off to chase lost sheep here and there. The kings finished up their Christmas shopping, picking out just the right gifts for Baby Jesus, who was tucked safely away in a drawer along with the angel. All the while, a child’s heart was preparing for Christmas. 

None of my pre-Christmas drama could compare to Christmas Eve, when Joseph and Mary would finally arrive in “Bethlehem,” at the stable on the end table, just before our family headed out the door to church. When we returned, the house was warm and cozy, lit with the glow of the season. The angel would finally come out of the drawer and herald the arrival of the Christ child. 

Then came the best moment of all — when my mother would allow me to place Baby Jesus in the creche, alongside Mary and Joseph. There was something so quiet and humble and holy about that moment.

As a mother, I’ve had the privilege of teaching my own little ones about the
Christ-child. Grateful for the ways my mother’s creativity planted seeds of
faith in my own life, one year, as I pulled from its box our family’s hand-carved wooden nativity set, the memory came to me. These were not the figures from my childhood, but a cherished gift from my mom, nevertheless. An entourage with its own stories to tell. 

Taking inventory, I noted that every piece was intact. Not a lamb was missing. “It’s a miracle!” I celebrated. (We’d had trouble with prodigal pieces in the past, but that’s another story.)

I had big plans. These little guys were about to help me revive an old family tradition. Some traveling music, please?

Our daughter especially enjoyed shepherding Joseph and Mary on their journey. Day by day, I smiled as I listened to Dakayla's dramatic interpretations of the characters' travels (everyone who knows us says she’s so much like me).

I thought about my old hang-up about . Ancient history! 

The tradition continues. Though our kids are well past the stage of playing with the nativity characters, as we prepare for Christmas, Baby Jesus waits patiently in a treasure box on the hearth. Our family looks forward to placing Him in His manger on Christmas Eve, but we hold Him in our hearts throughout the year. 

The people walking [traveling?] in darkness have seen a great light ... For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9: 2, 6

“From Nazareth to Bethlehem” is used by permission, ©2006 by Donna J. Noble. All rights reserved. This article first appeared as one of Donna’s Christmas publications, as well as in the Winter 07-08 issue of Live! (Gospel Publishing House.)

Amber Dawn Whitt December 19, 2011 at 02:34 PM
We, too, have a special nativity that has been passed down in our family. My paternal grandma purchased it on a trip to Israel, and it is made of olive wood from the Holy Land. I can't remember a Christmas without it. She would sit it on a table in her entry-way. Every year on Christmas, she would bring it to the floor and act out the Christmas story for my brother, sister and me. The nativity was left out until Easter, because that's the reason Jesus came to earth. Today, it sits on my mantle, and my dad tells the story of the Christ-child to my girls every year.
Donna J. Noble December 19, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Oh, Amber, I love that tradition! Thank you for sharing it here. I hope you are having a great CHRISTmas season. :)


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