Some children had been rummaging through the remains of a house that had burned many years before, and a little girl found her in a box. Her clothes had burned away—even her hair—but the rest of her was miraculously intact. She was a beautiful lady doll. The girl had rushed the doll home to show her mother. The mother saw the incredible beauty the doll had been, and had at once decided to rescue and restore her.
The mother first took a damp cloth and carefully cleaned the doll, gently wiping away the smoke and dust, showing the lovely colors underneath. Then she went through her trunk and selected clothing of fine silks and velvets that had been stored long before, and no longer fit anyone. These she cut up to use the fabric to make the doll a dress. There was old, soft cotton batiste for underwear. The fancy fashion lady dress she made for the doll was trimmed with tiny glass beads and silk fringe. When the dress was done, the mother cut her own long golden hair and had a wig made for the doll who was now a beautiful fashion lady dressed in Victorian style. They called her Princess Elizabeth, a dignified Victorian name.
Princess Elizabeth from then on was always on display in a glassed-in corner china cabinet—now antique– in the living room. She watched the family day after day and year after year, seeing children grow up to become parents, then grandparents themselves.
This particular year she watched as the fourth generation since her resurrection from the ashes began to decorate the house for Christmas. As with every Christmas, her heart was sad, because she saw the same nativity scene set up under the Christmas tree generation after generation. She was sad because the family had never known that she should have been the mother sitting by the manger. She had been created as a Creche doll, the Virgin Mary.
When the fire happened, her clothing was burned away, miraculously leaving her whole, but with no evidence of who she had been.
The children setting up the Nativity this year were two little girls, Mina, aged 9, and Bethany, age 11, and their brother Danny, who was 8.
Danny had been born a normal baby boy, but by the time he was three he had become more and more silent, unable to communicate with those around him. He had been diagnosed as autistic and despite excellent treatment, had retreated further and further into his own private world. Danny loved his sisters, though he could not tell them. He loved to help them with things like setting up the Nativity, decorating the tree, or in summer picking bouquets of flowers for their mother. He even enjoyed playing with Legos or jumping rope, but he never said a word to anyone. The girls let him join in their activities but had long since learned there would be no input from him. The accepted Danny as Danny and that was it, but they always talked to him just as though he was normal, simply never expecting a reply.
This year, as in so many years past, Princess Elizabeth watched from her glass enclosed shelf as the decorations came out and were placed. This was a traditional family, who celebrated Christmas for what it was—the celebration of the birth of Christ. The man of the house had put the strings of tiny colored lights on the tree, now the children and their mother got to unpack the shining ornaments and hang them. The tree was old fashioned too—a live mountain fir tree, a full and even shape that reached to the high ceiling in the living room. It was in front of the big bay window so passers-by and the neighbors could enjoy its beauty too.
As they decorated the tree, the room was filled with laughter and “oh look, a glass bird!” Or Santa or pine cone or bejeweled glass ball.
“Tell us again about the baby in the manger,” Mina said. She wanted to a hear the story every year.
“The star on the top of the tree is the star that told them where the manger was, so the baby could be born, and then it stayed there so the Wise Men could bring presents!” She secretly wanted to see those presents, but never said so, just wanted to be sure they weren’t forgotten. From the time the tree was set up and ready, each night it seemed more and more wrapped presents would appear under it. Mina would slip in when no one was around, choose a very small one, and put it by the manger in the Nativity, so it would be like the Wise Men brought new ones each year.
Princess Elizabeth in her finery, watched all this and was pleased at the love that seemed to have always been in this house. If she couldn’t be where she belonged, by the manger, then she could at least see the love and hear the laughter.
This year as she watched, Danny seemed to be fading. He had started as energetic as usual, but as each day passed, he seemed to become frail. Only Elizabeth seemed to notice. How could she help him? She knew she was only a doll, and there was nothing she could do, but because she was a special doll, representing someone very special, she could dream and feel things.
Three days before Christmas, some friends came to visit, bringing with them their undisciplined child, Robert, a young boy of 12. Robert was reaching puberty and had become quite obnoxious, and loved to make fun of other people. As the adults gathered in the den to talk and have snacks, Robert joined Mina, Danny and Bethany who were playing a board game on the carpet near the Christmas tree, a favorite pastime. They asked Robert to join them but he said it was too stupid.
Robert roamed the room, walked around the tree, and stopped by the Nativity scene. He picked up the Mary figure. She was about the same size as Elizabeth but she, like the other figures, was all porcelain. Robert turned her around looking at her, then dropped her back to the floor. She fell against a porcelain lamb, and shattered into many pieces.
The three children stopped playing, horrified. Robert laughed and went outside to sit on the porch. The girls ran to tell their mother, while Danny stood staring at the pieces of Mary, touching one or two, his eyes filling with tears. It was only a figurine, but she had been there all his life. She was part of Christmas, the family, and love. He started to cry inconsolably.
Elizabeth on her shelf could only look on. She wished she could cry.
The visitors left and the children were put to bed, Danny still weeping, his parents unable to ease his pain. The next two days passed quickly. Mary was not replaced in the Creche—they had tried to find a replacement but by Christmas Eve there was nothing left in the stores for Christmas.
Everyone went to bed early, so they could rise early on Christmas day and light the tree and open gifts
Sometime in the dark, Elizabeth heard the door to her cabinet open, then felt little hands carefully lift her down. In a little while, she was filled with joy.
In the morning, the family came down the stairs, lit the tree, and poured hot chocolate for everyone, and brought out sweet rolls so no one would get too hungry before dinner. As they gathered around the tree, they were surprised to see Danny curled up between the tree and the Creche. He opened his eyes, yawned and stretched.
“I put Mary where she belonged,” he said clearly, shocking everyone. He pointed to the figure by the manger. The fancy lady doll’s clothing was covered with a shawl that went over her head and shoulders, the way it had looked on the figurine that had been broken. Her jointed knees had been carefully bent, so she was kneeling. Her arms were posed touching the manger. She seemed to glow.
The best of all was Danny. Danny was a normal little boy again! He looked well, laughed and played and spoke as though he had never spent years in silence.
“It was her”, Danny’s mother said. “We thought she was a lady doll—now that I see her like this, the serenity on her face, I know she was always meant to be Mary, a creche doll. When Danny put her back where she belonged—a miracle happened for him…”
And Mary, who had been a sad Elizabeth for so long, seemed to glow in the light of the star on the tree. She knew where Danny’s miracle had come from.
If you missed last year’s Christmas Story you can read it here!