MANGER….a box or trough in a stable or barn from which horses or cattle eat.

A week or so ago, Joy and I went to Birmingham for a few days….to shop, yes, and just to get out of town, mostly!  We have our favorite places we like to go and sort of make the rounds until we hit all the places on our list.  We sort of criss-cross the whole city!.   One of our favorites is a gift shop in Hoover.  It’s a must on our list each time.  Joy let me off at the door, went to park the car…because she is a good sister who always looks after me!  The minute I walked through the door, my eyes rested on a little manger made of wood…with straw, shoved under a table full of much finer things.  A little doll lay on the straw.  I didn’t pick it up to check the price…I didn’t touch it at all.    I didn’t even ask Joy if it would fit into her car!  I went straight to the checkout desk and told the girl there that I wanted it!  She said that that was the last one they had and they did not have a box, so they would have to pack it up for me.  “Fine”, I told them, “I’m in no hurry.”  I found several other gifts for family and friends, and then went to check out.  They had folded it all together and packed it into a small package.  And, it fit into the car just fine!

Then we began looking at the doll that was to represent Baby Jesus.  It was not a pretty baby.  It was very strange looking, actually.  And, its eyes would not close…so I knew we could not sing ‘Away In A Manger’…since the’ Little Lord Jesus’ could not go to ‘sleep on the hay’. That would not do, at all.  And so we added a baby doll to our list.

Now, I know nothing about baby dolls.  Raising 3 boys, it was never on their lists!  Even though they did have on old baby doll they played with when they were toddlers…but I don’t even know where it came from. Forgive me boys for telling your secrets)   Dolls are strange.  Some have the saddest looking faces…and by sad, I mean scary.  I don’t know why they would even make some of the ones we saw.  We looked in several places and finally found one that had a sweet face and eyes that closed.  And, the best part was that it had a soft squishy body instead of a hard molded one.  Never mind that it had on a pink ensemble with matching hat, booties, and bottle.  Once we got rid of those things…there was no evidence of gender at all.  (OH MY!  I’ve probably offended someone!  So sorry!)

I am a big believer in ‘hands on’ learning.  You can see pictures and read books and talk about it…but when you actually feel the rough wood, and place the pieces of hay, it becomes clearer.  Swaddling clothes…what does that mean to a little one?  Not much…until you show him how the strips of cloth were wrapped around Jesus’ little body when he was born.  I dare say, he will never hear about a manger again without thinking about what it really looks and feels like.  He knows now that ‘it wasn’t soft’.

I could hardly wait for Levi to see it!  I set it up right beside the tree, and put all the items on the floor around it.  There was a mossy mat, and straw, and a piece of torn blanket, along with a book and the doll.


Now this piece of blanket was no where near what we would call ‘swaddling clothes’.  So, I tore several long strips from an old sheet and added them to the mix.  And, waited for Levi to come.

It was the sweetest thing.  I showed him all the pieces and he went right to work.  First he put the little mat in the bottom. (“Hang on, Baby!”)


And then he added the hay (straw).


He put it all in and then felt of it with his little hand and said, “Lulu, this is not soft.”  I told him that when Baby Jesus was born, he did not have a soft bed, and that all he had was somewhere hard to lay.  He thought about it for a minute and then set about finishing.  First he sorted through the pile of cloths and got the biggest one.  He laid the doll on it and wrapped him up tightly.






And then he laid the doll in the bed and covered it with the piece of blanket.






He took a few piece of the straw and laid them on top of the blanket.  Then he looked down at him and said, “Go to sleep now, Baby.”  And, as he turned to go back to play with his toys, he stopped and looked at me again and said, “It’s just not soft.”

He’s right.  Our King came into this world in the lowliest of ways.  He didn’t have a soft bed.  He had hard wood, or maybe even stone, and the smell of animals, and the itch and sting of hay.  But, he had a mother and father who loved him, and who did the best they could with what they had.  His first visitors were among the bottom of society at that time.  Shepherds…whose job was to tend to animals.  And more visitors came later.  Kings…who were wise and brought gifts that showed how important the child was to our world.  The lowly and the exalted…he came for all!

My wish is for this little manger to be seen by the 3 little boys in our family every Christmas.  Right there with all the presents and the ribbons and lights.  A reminder that the first gift was…and will always be…the best gift!  This has always been the focus of our family and it will continue into the next generation.



(Please forgive the blurriness of these pics…it was very hard to get him from an angle to see what he was doing.  And, he was into fixing it just right…not in posing for pictures!  Which is exactly the way it should be!)





  1. Tonja, I just love this sweet story, from your finding the manger, to watching Levi 's process of tenderly taking care of baby Jesus! Just precious! Thanks for sharing! This made my Christmas!

  2. This is just the dearest, sweetest preparation I've ever seen—such dedication and love in every wisp of straw. What a kind, caring young man you're raising—he's learning to take care, take care, and that's one of the greatest blessings in anyone's life.

    The entire photo array reminded me so dearly of Sweetpea when she was about that age—we'd told the story since she could listen, but one afternoon near Christmas she came out of school, and as she buckled into her seat, she asked indignantly,, "Ganjin, did you KNOW that Baby Jesus had to sleep in the SHEEP'S DISH?!!"

    It's for us to prepare the little vessels to be filled, and you're doing your work with a full heart and happy hands.


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