For as long as I can remember, every Christmas Eve my parents would bundle me up in my coat and hat, hand me a plastic baby figurine that was supposed to represent the Baby Jesus and instruct me to trample through our front garden (or what we in Queens consider a garden – more like a patch of dirt) and place the baby in the manager.
My father, being the construction worker that he was, would build a makeshift manger out of spare wood every December, assemble it in our front garden and then strategically place the plastic figurines that resembled Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, a shepherd and a few sheep in and around the manger. Baby Jesus however, would always remain inside our house where he and the rest of us would eagerly anticipate the night of his birth. Then come Christmas Eve, I would lay Baby Jesus in the manager and officially kick off our Christmas celebration. This annual ritual was of course, always captured on film. As the years passed, the allure of the tradition began to wear thin. Some years the garden and the manger would be covered in snow complicating my task even more, or it would be pouring rain and my umbrella would never quite keep me as dry as I had hoped, or it would just be plain freezing cold out. I mean, did I really need to subject the little guy to those weather conditions?
By the time I reached my teens, I couldn’t wait for my sisters to start having kids so I could pass the obligatory torch or in this case baby, along to their children. However, my first niece Francesca wasn’t born until I was twenty years old, and even then I still had to do the honors and carry both her and Jesus to the manger. When my second niece Stephanie was born, the entire family and I couldn’t wait for the two girls to grow up and take over the tradition. I was relieved and thrilled to say the least!
However they both simply refused. These innocent little girls ages two and three, threw fits and temper tantrums, adamant about not stepping one single foot into our garden or going anywhere near that manager. They wanted no part of this tradition and believe it or not everyone simply accepted their belligerence. As a result, the torch was never passed on and that bastard Baby Jesus would remain my responsibility and mine alone.
I am now…well let’s just say I’m in my thirties, yet still every Christmas Eve my parents become far too elated as they grab their cameras, toss the Baby Jesus my way, and insist that I once again perform the honors. Like an obedient child, I still give into their wishes as I squeeze past the rose bush hoping not to catch my cashmere sweater on a branch or thorn, try not to crush any plants with my freshly polished Kenneth Cole loafers, squat down between the now overgrown shrubs and pose for my annual photo op. And in that moment, much like the figurine I lay in the manger, time stands still and neither one of us has grown up or changed much - we’re still just our parents precious baby boys.