Carols from Kings are wafting from the radio, which, for me, always heralds the "true" commencement of Christmas Eve. The house is quiet - Christmas day preparations will come later - while outside my window the slowly setting sun is lightening evergreens and throwing bare branches into strong relief against a sky which is pale blue washed with palest gold. And beside me, as it has been for several Christmases, is my late father's crib.
My dad was given this crib in 1932, when he was six, by his favourite teacher, Sr Cecilia. That much I have always known. What I never thought to ask while he was alive was why she gave it to him: was it a prize, or a reward for good behaviour, or did other children receive a crib as well? All this is lost to posterity - all I have is the crib and the barest facts of its provenance, and its place in my life and memories.
It's a very traditional crib, not the sort I would go out and buy for myself. But it holds within it memories and familiarity and my own history as well as my father's. I presume he assembled it every Advent while he was growing up. He would have assembled it during the War and German occupation, and I like to imagine my grandmother displaying it during Christmas 1944, while my teenage father was in a German labour camp. Certainly, every Advent during my childhood, after my mother and I had decorated the Christmas tree and hung paper chains and tinsel from every corner, my father would appear with the crib in its 1932 box, remove the straw, then gently and reverently assemble the figures.
Blessed Christmas everyone... and may there be space in all the busyness and in our otherwise untidy hearts for the One for whom we long, to fill us with the joy of his presence.