Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nothing Like the Picture on the Box

When my almost 3-year-old isn't disparaging my driving skills, he uses the time he's strapped in the van's back seat to pepper me with out-of-the-blue statements that leave me wondering what book he has secretly stowed back there to spark such a wild imagination.

This week's hit-the-brake moment was Wyatt's declaration that he wanted to make a gingerbread house.

I'm sure my mother made more than one gingerbread house during my childhood, but in my mind, I remember only one such creation that sat on the hallway table. I can envision its rock hard royal icing, cardboard base, and candies that looked good enough to eat but were off limits. I also remember it taking her forever to decorate.

This memory was enough for me to know a house was not something I really wanted to undertake until all three of my children were old enough to actually remember and appreciate my labors.

This Grinch of a mommy said "no." The next day when we visited my parents, his very first words were, "Ma-ma! I want to make a gingerbread house!"

A $10 donation to Wilton and Wal-mart later by those same grandparents, and his house was more than just a pipe dream.

The everything-in-a-box kit pictured a snow-covered house with beautifully drawn straight lines making a criss-cross pattern on the roof, perfectly spaced icicles dangling from the eaves, identically-sized windows, and full evergreen trees crafted from shredded gum drops.

By the time we finished, ours looked nothing like the box.

For starters, this house wasn't up to code. It came pre-built with a slight lean. Then came Wyatt's concept of decorating--every last piece of candy that came with the kit had to go on the house. My attempt at straight lines and uniformly-sized windows also failed because Wyatt kept bumping my arm or turning the house. And I'm still scratching my head over how Wilton's decorators got their gum drop trees to look like pine feathered limbs versus my mini cubes stuck together.

Nothing like the box.But it made a little boy happy. And I must admit it was fun.

And yet it made me think about the Christmas story, how the reality of the nativity is nothing like what's pictured on our cards, ornaments, and framed art.

You've seen the pictures--sweet, beautiful Mary without a crease in her brow as she watches over her never-crying baby sleeping in a manger lined with perfectly spaced, clean straw. Surrounding her is a pristine stable full of perfectly-groomed animals as spotlessly-clothed, well-manicured shepherds kneel quietly before Jesus.

Yeah right. Let's face it--childbirth is a messy, sweaty, exhausting ordeal. If Mary's labor was anything like mine, she looked pretty haggard. And if Joseph stuck around through the entire ordeal, I'm guessing he didn't look too hot either.

And then there's the stable. Ever been in one? They stink. They're dirty. And if this stable was actually a cave as modern scholars have suggested, it was damp, too. Damp + animal poop = really stinky.

The manger? Imagine a feed trough, a crude, wooden box coated with years of caked-on slobbery cow spit and slimy pig snot.

Finally, consider the shepherds--in reality, these were extremely low-class people, not exactly accepted in polite society. They may not have had a bath in weeks, and I'm thinking Mary probably raised more than one protective new-mother eyebrow at several strange, drunk-sounding men bursting into the stable telling a wild story of angels.

Not the sanitized nativity picture we see this time of year.

But the reality of Christ's birth just makes it that much more amazing that He would leave heaven for someone like me.


  1. Jennifer, I have such a thing with fluids -- this image of spit and snot on the Messiah's first bed just took His willing humanity to an all new level for me. :)

    This is a great picture.

    And that picture of Wyatt with his face covered in white icing? I'm pretty sure that's the very image that is intended by the picture on the box. I love it.

  2. Your gingerbread house turned out beautiful!

    Thanks for your rendition of the manger setting. It really put a picture in my mind of the lowliness of it all.

    Have a blessed Christmas, Jennifer!

  3. The house is so sweet. Jordon was recently talking about how we haven't done one this year.

  4. Jennifer, I'm going to post a picture of our "not like the box" gingerbread house that we put together last night.

    Sophie and Wyatt are so much alike. She had been carrying on and on about doing a gingerbread house. And so we did.

    Messy, sticky, not so much like that picture on the box.

    So much like those nativity scenes you're talking about here. Not at all like the picture we paint in our minds.