It’s Christmas Eve. Tonight, our local community will gather at the town’s church, surrounded by candles, a hundred pricks in the darkness of the days near Winter Solstice. We will sing and contemplate and eat together before each family spends the next day in colorful celebration.
On Saturday, Jeff and I took care of the sheep, trimming hooves and giving shots, and then stopped by the church to deliver six straw bales that would support the nativity scene by the soaring concrete steps leading into the auditorium. He hauled them from the truck bed to the sign posts, and I kicked them into place with my steel-toed Red Wings.
The church basement held the plastic scene, three figures and a star-crowned arch in designs inspired by stained glass. White lights lined the back of them. This was a much different manger scene than the one used during every previous Christmas season I’d known: a piece of plywood painted black with the scene of the stable cut out of the top, creating a silhouette against a blue tarp illuminated by one or two gentle lights between the wood and the tarp.
We steadied the new pieces of the nativity scene on the straw bales and used twine to secure them. Toby the Labrador Retriever lay in the snow at my feet, surveying the road.
As we made the final adjustments, the security lights hummed on. Their glow shone through smoke that floated from a chimney in the creek valley, cold creating its corporeality as it floated to the cemetery at the top of the hill.
“We’d better go do chores,” I told my great-aunt, and Jeff swung Toby over his shoulder to place him in the back of the truck. The horses stood at the road as we drove to the barn, wondering why we had been delayed.