When Tradition Finds No Room in the Inn

Donna Wichelman Uncategorized

Our family decorates the house for Christmas each year on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s become a tradition. Carols play in the background while a fury of activity ensues. Everyday household décor is removed and replaced by candles, garlands, snow globes, and poinsettias. We rearrange the furniture in the family room to set up the Christmas tree in front of the large picture window and place an advent wreath on the coffee table. By day’s end, the house glitters with the lights and smells of the season—everything in its place, a delight to the eyes.

Family Room, Christmas 2022

Except for this year.

This year, a new bench sits in the entrance where a table used to always display a Fontanini resin nativity I had bought for my parents in Florence, Italy forty years ago. The nativity was an extravagant expense, but I wanted to bring something special home for them from Europe while I was going to school there.

My parents excitedly received the nativity and faithfully set it out in their home every Christmas until they passed away in the 1990s. As their only child, the nativity returned to me in 1997, and I continued the tradition, setting it out each year.

My husband and I, and a close family friend, hunted for an appropriate spot around the house to display the nativity but to no avail. My heart sank with a profound loss; tears sprang to my eyes. It seemed there was no place for the nativity, just like there had been no room for the Christ child in the inn two thousand years ago. How could that be?

The story of the Christ child recorded in the Bible–Luke, Chapter 2–gives us a picture of mass mayhem in Bethlehem, an ancient town in Judea constructed of stone and adobe. Caesar Augustus had decreed a census be taken, and each family had to return to their own city. Mary and Joseph had traveled far from Nazareth to register like all the other families who had descended on that overcrowded little town.

Can you see it? Women in colorful robes and men in turbans combed the dusty streets in leather sandals, shoulder-to-shoulder, scouting out food vendors, fending off street peddlers, and holding on to their children for dear life. No doubt, all of them scrambled for suitable accommodation.

The tired and harried innkeepers were doing their best with what they had, weren’t they? They couldn’t take in everybody. How could they have known how far Mary and Joseph had traveled, how wearying their journey, or who the child was that Mary carried?

No, the innkeepers most likely never considered who they had rejected on that first Christmas Eve, nor did they probably even care. Life would pass by in an endless blur of travelers seeking a room no matter who had knocked on their doors. The only place offered to Mary at her critical time to give birth was a dirty, stinky cattle stall.

What would you or I have done if we were one of those beset innkeepers in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago? I’d like to say I would have moved heaven and earth to find a room for Mary and Joseph, especially observing Mary was with child. But then again, would I have taken the time to discover who it was that knocked on my door? What would you do today if someone knocked at your door and asked if you had room for a child who could change your life, set you free from all your burdens, and give you peace for all eternity?

In the end, we found room for my Fontanini nativity. My friend discovered a brilliant spot on top of the dresser in my office, where it will stay until it’s time to pack it away until next year. It’s my new tradition.

Fontanini Nativity, ca. 1975

Learn more about the Fontanini Tradition in my next blog coming the week of December 12, 2022.