This nativity set that resides on my shelf at Christmas time is quite old. It was already well-loved for a number of years before I was born. It was my grandmother's and I'm sure it's age is reaching ninety years or more. She kept each figure wrapped in soft cotton between Christmases.
I remember watching her beautiful workworn hands as they gently unwrapped each individual and set it in place on her mantel. They aren't porcelain or china - more of a chalky substance and they do chip and break easily and she didn't trust having them within constant reach of small hands. They have taken on a darker hand-rubbed look with age which to me has only added to their loveliness. She would let me hold each one for a bit before putting it in place. Oh, how I loved holding that baby Jesus in my tiny hands!
The camel 's hind leg is chipped just out of sight. Joseph was broken when I was still a child - that's one of the shepherds kneeling beside Mary - he substitutes very well although if you look closely he's a bit old. One of the wisemen had been broken before I was born, so I have only known two - I always pretended the third was just out of sight. I was told that once there was an angel, too.
After I had my children and my grandmother no longer had the big Christmas celebrations in her home, she gave me the nativity. I was her first grandchild and the only grandchild to ever live in her home - we shared the only January birthdays in the family. She wanted me to be the one to continue to unwrap and hold each figure for just awhile and then place them lovingly on display. As I do so, I have my own private Christmas service in my heart, just as I believe my Grandmother did.