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The Manger

Updated on September 19, 2012

The beauty of stained glass

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The Creche

Growing up in the sixties as a Catholic meant that you didn’t question what the meaning of Christmas was you just learned and accepted it. In our family we would often attend the midnight mass. I loved going at that time, even though I was sleepy, because it made me feel like we were on the cusp of Christ’s birth. The church would be bright with candles and the stained glass windows would glow. The crèche stood outside in the front of the church with life sized figures.

Every Catholic knows the story of how Christ was born in a stable because there was ‘no room at the inn’. Who doesn’t know, through songs and religious teachings, how a lowly manger became his crib. And, what goes in a manger? Well, hay or straw, of course. So, here is a story of what happened to a little girl when she was assigned the task of making a manger for her catechism class.

Midnight mass was a family Christmas tradition.
Midnight mass was a family Christmas tradition. | Source

The Assignment

I was 7 years old and in first grade. Since I attended a public school I had to go to catechism following church each Sunday. Catechism is the equivalent of Sunday school or Bible Study where we learn all about God, according to the Catholic beliefs.

One of the traditions in many Catholic homes, ours included, was to fill the nativity manger with straw by doing a good deed for someone or helping out around the house in the month before Christmas. Each time a child participated in this way she got to place a piece of straw that was provided into the manger. The idea was to do so many good deeds that Baby Jesus would have a nice, soft bed to lay in when he came into the world.

Our Catechism class was having a competition that year and each student was invited to create his own manger out of whatever materials he chose. He could have help from parents, and it could be any design or material, but the entries would have to be in before the deadline.

Determined to win the prize, I set off to design my version of what a manger would look like with one fatal flaw-I was not artistically inclined and had no clue, at seven years old, how necessary this was at some level. It didn’t take long before my father found me with my head on the kitchen table sobbing as if my heart would break.

The Finished Project

Now, if any of you have read my other hubs regarding family, and in particular the hub, The Sacrifices of Fathers, you already know the kind of father he was. So, he gave me a consoling hug, brought me into the basement to his work bench, and began to pick out several pieces of plain wood, cutting them into five pieces of varying sizes. Next, he grabbed a hammer and tiny nails and soon I followed him back to the kitchen where he laid everything out.

The manger assignment then turned into a geometry lesson when my dad asked me to choose the matching pieces. I pulled the two largest and two medium sized pieces together side by side and left the smallest piece by itself.

He then assisted me in nailing the pieces together, which really amounted to me placing my small hand atop his big one, as he gently tapped the nails into the wood. Deftly, he worked those large pieces around the smallest one and soon a manger no bigger than a small index card box emerged.

The Argument

“There you go, Denise,” dad said satisfied. “You made a manger.”

I sat staring at the pieces of plain, solid wood that did not look at all what I had envisioned in my young head, not understanding my father’s perspective, and immediately began to cry.

I’m sure I said something childish and unappreciative like, “That’s not going to win a prize. That’s ugly.” And, I sobbed even harder than before.

Well, if there was one thing my father could not stand for very long it was tears. He couldn’t stand any of us crying about something that he couldn’t fix or do anything about. An argument ensued and when I insisted I wasn’t going to take that ‘thing’ to represent my manger to class, he insisted I would, and by golly he overruled me.

The next day I begrudgingly brought the entry into class where several teachers from the other grades would judge them during our catechism lesson. I wasn’t devious enough to defy my father by tossing it into the garbage can, as my brothers might have…I was destined to obey or face the wrath of my father.

The Lesson

What a lesson in humility it was for me; a lesson that stuck with me throughout my life. When I arrived home that afternoon my father inquired about class and I stood before him holding out my manger that he had lovingly helped build. There it was as small and plain as ever with a blue ribbon attached to its side.

This unadorned manger, certainly the better representation of what Jesus had for a crib, had beat out all of the larger, fancier mangers that the other children had made and I was glowing- unaware, as of yet, of my father’s strength and wisdom.

The lesson he taught that day was one of simplicity. A lesson that I understood and appreciated the older I grew. Needless to say, the lesson, as well as the manager, remains with me to this day. And, just as I did that Christmas season, I taught my own children to fill the manger with the ‘good deed’ straw.


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello, and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to you, as well. I appreciate your comments. :) I found the manger recently, lol. I'll have to update this hub and get it uploaded. :)

      I hope you have a wonderful New Year's Eve with your family. Happy New Year!! Thanks for stopping by.

    • mr-veg profile image


      6 years ago from Colorado United States

      Merry Christmas Denise !! And nicely narrated as always !! :)

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Jimmie-thanks for reading and leaving your comments. I love Christmas and the fact that my father, in his infinite wisdom and patience, so readily taught me the cleaner version of Christmas, was a gift indeed; and one I have never forgotten.

    • JimmieWriter profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      8 years ago from Memphis, TN USA

      Beautiful story. The unadorned manger is truly what Christmas is about -- Jesus emptying himself of the glory that was his in heaven and becoming a man.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi femmeflashpoint-nice to see you again-my gosh, I really appreciate you reading so many of my hubs. :) (my big smile here ) I'm glad you enjoyed the story. If you want to know a bit more about my dad read the hub: The Sacrifices of Fathers. It is all about him. :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wearing a very big smile, Denise!!! I really loved this story!!!

      I especially loved the part where you explained how your dad turned it into a geometry lesson, and how your hammering was "assisted" by bigger and more qualified hands, lol.

      Never met your father, but ... I'm impressed. :)

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi anglnwu-Thank you for your feedback. Yes, I agree with your ideas of humble beginnings.

      Donna-I didn't equate it as a 'visual' lesson, but you're exactly right. And, what child can't use a little visual motivation, right? The fun part is that the straw builds up and the kids are excited that Jesus has a nice bed to lay in. Thanks for the visit and the vote.

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 

      8 years ago from USA

      What a wonderful glimpse into this tradition! I loved the idea of adding straw for good deeds. That provides a wonderful visual object lesson for children. Voted up

    • anglnwu profile image


      8 years ago

      What a lovely story--your father was so wise and the simplicity of the stable is the core of the message of Christmas of humble beginning. Thanks for sharing.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Melovy-thanks for your comments. If you enjoyed these images of my father be sure to read: Sacrifices of really describes him and his philosophy of life and is a tribute to fathers everywhere. :)

      Hi Simone, yes, a midnight mass can be a very beautiful experience-but, be sure to get there early. It is usually quite popular and standing room only!

      I wrote another hub last year about Christmas traditions that included going to eat at a Chinese Restaurant following midnight mass (because the Chinese rest. were the only ones open on Christmas, LOL) It's called: It's a Wonderful Life', in case you're interested.

      Thanks for taking a moment to read and comment.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      I can always get behind the power of simplicity! Beautiful Hub, Denise. I would love to attend a midnight mass someday... I grew up hearing about them, but only from the perspective of outsiders!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      This is very sweet, what a lovely memory for you. I felt very drawn in by the images you created of your father helping you make the manger and then of you arriving home with the blue ribbon.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Danette-I'm glad you had a nice stroll down memory lane, sis. I'm sure we could reminisce for a long while about the days of old. But, I've noticed you haven't read or commented on any of my latest poetry...hmmm are you avoiding those,?? LOL

      Hi Cara-isn't that the truth, about Grampa. EVERYTHING was a lesson, LOL I thought I told you that I made that manger with grampa that we had used when you and Christa were little. Maybe you just don't recall it? I'm sure you would do the ah-ha thing if you saw it. :) Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Hi Ann-how goes it? Thanks for the votes. I managed to stay UP ALL DAY LONG (what was I thinking??)and kick out two more to get me back to the correct count. 6 hubs now and only 24 to go, LOL

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      8 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      loved it - voted up and stuff

    • cardelean profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Beautiful hub. I can't wait until my kids are just a little older to go to midnight mass. Although I love having them participate in the children's mass now.

      I didn't know the story of you making a manger and having grandpa helping you. OF COURSE he would make it into a lesson! Thanks for sharing.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Beautiful story. I had forgotten about the straw, but definitely remember midnight mass. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi tsmog-thanks for stopping in and winking, LOL

      tlpoague-nice seeing you-glad you enjoyed it.

      OnS-thanks for reading and commenting.

      Hi joej--OMG I had to chuckle--I forgot about those darned pagan babies. Thanks for stopping in.

    • joejagodensky profile image


      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Wonderful memory. I had forgotten about the straw for good deeds. I guess those days I was too busy buying "pagan babies." Good Hub.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Aww Denise, I loved this story! Your hand atop your dad's hand as he made the simple manger. What a great lesson you learned and shared with us all. That is awesome, and a very sweet story. Thank you for sharing it. :) Great hub.

    • tlpoague profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      What a wonderful story! It is a hard lesson to learn sometimes when our ideas don't match the father's. I have had a few of my own humbling experiences. Thanks for taking the time to share yours. Voted up!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      8 years ago from Escondido, CA



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