I pull the little hand-carved Christ figurine from the box and place it in the manger. Next I find Mary and Joseph and set them on either side of the child’s tiny crib. As I do this my heart both tugs downward and rises upward. It’s an odd bitter sweetness on this snowy December evening.

These are the first Christmas decorations I have ever put up in my home of eight years. As I place the three wise men and a shepherd outside the manger, I feel like a kid playing with dolls. I am the master of this little scene, of these delicate hand-carved and painted figures that my parents brought home from Italy when I was a toddler. Now here they are on my entryway table.

Some 20 years ago this nativity disappeared into an attic, and I only found it after my mother’s passing in the spring. Their beauty prompted me to finally decorate my home for Christmas.

In previous years I didn’t because I would decorate and celebrate the holiday at my mother’s house. I would go out and buy a tree (see Scrooge Buys a Tree), bring it to her living room and set it up. I would string the lights and we, along with her caregivers, would adorn it with her most cherished ornaments.

After I finish setting up the nativity, I go about my days, editing, blogging, teaching, but slowly a strange lethargy comes over me. I can’t identify it, but sense the Beloved wants to me see something.

A health condition I’ve recently been relieved of, returns, which compounds the slow, dark feeling within. I chant my word, read my Beloved’s works and rest on the couch. These activities lift my spirit, but still I feel as though I am swimming through gray fog.

The weekend comes and I meet a friend to cross-country ski. With my lassitude, it’s a challenge to keep this date, but I do. We drive a snow-packed road to the trailhead where I turn off the motor. We sit in silence for a moment, and then I find myself talking about the nativity, about its grace and the childlike joy of putting up the figurines.

Suddenly I’m weeping, and my friend, who has been going through her own pre-solstice lessons, weeps too. For me, it is about saying goodbye to a warm holiday ritual I shared with my mother. Tears drip down my face and into my mouth, the saltiness a healing potion in the silence of this still day under a pumice sky.

After our tears dry, we climb out, put on our skis and head onto a trail dusted with some of the lightest, fastest powder I have ever skied. The sparkly snow clings to the pines and rises in fairy puffs as we brush the branches.

We ski and ski, over hills and through glades. As I speed along the fast parts I whoop with joy at some new freedom that has birthed within. It is a sense of my existence far beyond this physical body—a feeling of peace and love that radiates from me into the cosmos.

In the evening, I again adjust the figurines of the nativity, and as I lift the Christ child, I recognize what a stunning reflection this is. I’ve used my energy to adorn so many other homes, so many other lives—family, friends, employers. Now, in the ease of loving my Beloved, I draw that energy in, where it can serve me to claim my own self-realization.

Here on the eve of the solstice, I birth my own soul self, while the whole scene stands before me in my home.

I am the child born unto Thee.

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