“Straw for the Manger,” Ensign, Dec. 2005, 56–57
As our children’s awareness began to grow beyond the protective walls of our own home, Christmas became more and more Santa and glitter. As this excitement and anticipation grew, the birth of our Savior seemed farther and farther from our hearts and minds. My husband, Bob, and I tried to bring the true spirit of Christmas back into our celebration in ways that would be meaningful to the entire family. One year we established a pattern of traditions that has served us well and provided meaningful Christmases for many years.
We chose a family home evening lesson for the first week in December that focused on giving service as a way to celebrate the Christmas season. We made a cardboard manger and provided a container full of straw. Each time a family member performed an act of service, we put one piece of straw into the manger. The children eagerly sought meaningful acts of kindness with which to earn a straw for baby Jesus’s manger, and we filled the manger three times over that year.
Bob happened to spot an old-fashioned lantern in a store’s display of Christmas decorations. He bought it, and it provided the inspiration for the culminating event of our religious celebration. After our family party and dinner on Christmas Eve, the children dressed for bed and gathered in the largest bedroom upstairs, away from the nativity scene in the living room. We turned off all the lights in the house and explained to the children that we would be taking a pilgrimage to see the newborn King of kings. We prepared for our journey by singing traditional carols and then proceeded to the living room, singing “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful.” Bob led the way, holding the lantern with its flickering candlelight to brighten our path.
Upon reaching the little stable, we sat quietly and sang a few more carols. Then we presented the manger to baby Jesus. It was filled with straw representing gifts of love we had given throughout the month. Everyone who wanted to do so expressed his or her love for the Savior. The Spirit of the Lord was in our home and our hearts that evening. The children went calmly and quietly to bed—still eager for the morning to come, but also feeling love and appreciation for the Christ child, whose birth we were celebrating.
Each year, as we get caught up in the frantic preparations for Christmas, we have a sense of peace, knowing that the commercialism will be tempered, at least to a degree, with a few moments of meaningful worship. Even at the height of anticipating Christmas morning, the children look forward to the special time we spend each Christmas Eve with the newborn King.