Every family has a storyteller right? Well, my family has perhaps one of the greatest storytellers of all time. My granny Jean (yes, that granny) has a memory like a vault, because of that, she can share in perfect detail of some of the most amazing stories of her lifetime. She’s a wealth of things and moments that I had long forgotten. One of my favourite stories of hers is the story of a special ornament that took on more and more meaning as the years went on. For Christmas, I wanted to share it all with you. I hope it fills your heart and home with the same warmth it does mine.
In 1945, my husband Jim had just returned from Naval Duty. We had just been married and we were celebrating our Christmas in our first apartment. We bought a Christmas decoration that cost us more than we could afford at the time. It represented for us a return to civilian life away from the restrictions and austerities that had been an integral part of World War II. It was a church that was covered with a white waxy substance to represent snow with a Santa’s sleigh and eight tiny reindeer that circled the steeple playing jingle bells when the knob was turned.
A tradition grew up around the ornament. On Christmas eve, when all the decorations had been put in a place and the tree had been decorated. Jim would read the story of Jesus’ birth from our family bible. Only then was the church unpacked and placed on the dining room table. Then the youngest child turned the knob, that started Santa around the steeple to the tune of Jingle Bells. As the years went by, as the family grew, each of the four children and then their children learned to appreciate the tradition that had built up around the church as the real beginning of Christmas festivities.
In 1989, the tradition was broken. All the preliminary steps were taken, but when the knob was turned, nothing happened. All the children, some now 40 years old, were disappointed, but Jim and I recognized that a mechanism could not go on forever. After all, the decoration was 44-years-old. However, Jim carefully removed the top of the church and lo and behold, there was a little field mouse with her offspring, who looked like six pink jelly beans, covering in the next that she made with the cotton batten that been used to protect the fragile large Christmas balls.
The mental picture of the little pregnant mouse looking for a safe haven in which she could safely give birth to her offspring and finding it in the little church whose entrance was so small that none of her normal predators could enter, stimulated our imagination. It reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Chris, who mother Mary also had to find a save haven where she could lay down her sweet head, while awaiting the birth of her child.
Living on a farm, we had been accustomed to accepting that all creatures are creatures of God. My husband carefully replaced the top of the church and returned it to the attic. It seemed like the “Christian thing to do.”
Shortly after Christmas, the top was once more removed. The baby mice were all gone. We removed the cotton batten that had been around the mechanism. The knob was turned and once more Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer turned around the steeple playing Jingle Bells. We were ready for the next Christmas but somehow the tradition of letting the youngest child turn the knob of the church as a symbolic gesture will never be the same.
We have added two little porcelain mice just outside the door of the church as a reminder of the incident. However, I don’t that anyone in the family will ever hear the expression “poor as a church mouse” without remembering the Christmas of 1989 with nostalgia.