on a bed of hay
the baby encircled by
a host of wondering
animals, both tame and wild,
from far and near, drawn by light
The inspiration for our creche came from A Christmas Cat by Tasha Tudor, about a stray cat that gets a new home at Christmas. In the story, the children put their stuffed donkey and toy goat in the traditional manger scene with baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We could do that too. The boys had some miniature animals: a donkey, two sheep, three rabbits, and three chickens, though no goat. I had a set of American Family dolls with a mother, father, baby, grandparents, a pioneer woman and a Native American girl. We set up the creche on the 19th century walnut kitchen hutch with its possum belly flour bins and collector plates on shelves behind glass doors. Throughout the child-raising years the collection grew: a cow, camel, elephant, horse, hedgehog, mouse, owl and a squirrel carrying a red ball like a gift for the baby. After the kids left home, I kept on collecting animals from all over the world to add to the menagerie: an ostrich and a kiwi, a pair of yaks, kashmir goats, lamas, a penguin, songbirds, a fox, a raccoon and, yes, a goat. Now when the grandchildren come at Christmas time, they see a host of animals all gazing in wonder at the baby, dressed in a yellow sleeper with a little red bird perched on his feet.