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A Rift Healed Makes for Happy Holidays

A Utah woman’s prayer is answered as she and her beloved older sister find a way to reconcile a disagreement over their mother’s Nativity set.

A Rift Healed Makes for Happy Holidays
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The tree in our living room was festooned with white lights and crocheted angels. Gifts were wrapped. Candles flickered and “Silent Night” played on the stereo.

But I couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit. My eyes kept going to the mantel. The bare mantel. That’s where my Nativity set—the one Mom made and I’d adored all my life—should have been.

Instead, it was at my sister Louise’s. She’d been holding it hostage for five years. I glared at the empty mantel, the old resentment simmering. Louise knew how much that crèche meant to me!

Louise is 16 years older, and she is like a second mom. By the time I was a toddler, I was the only child at home. Louise was married and our brother, Arlo, was also grown.

When I was eight, Louise divorced and moved around the corner with her three kids. Even as a single working mom she made time for me. What fun we had!

She’d take me swimming with her kids at the lake. Other times I’d sit in the kitchen and watch Louise and Mom cooking, baking, talking about grown-up things. I longed to be just like my big sister.

Mom and I had our time too. She took up ceramics when I was in first grade. She’d come home from class and excitedly tell me about the Nativity she was making—the blue and white of Mary’s robes, the shepherd who carried a lamb draped around his shoulders and the precious baby Jesus in the manger.

Mom finished the crèche just before Christmas. One night she set it up on top of the TV cabinet.

Mary and Joseph knelt behind baby Jesus. The shepherds were close to the manger, the wise men and their camels farther away. Then she went into the kitchen to do the dishes.

The figurines were even lovelier than she’d described, but something about the setup didn’t look right to me. So I moved them. Mom caught me.

“What are you doing?” she scolded. “The pieces are all bunched together!”

“They were too far away from baby Jesus,” I said. “Everyone needs to see him.”

Mom put them back her way. I rearranged them. Back and forth we went. Finally she laughed and let them be.

“I guess you understand what’s really important about Christmas,” she said. By the time I was a teen, she trusted me with the task of setting up the Nativity.

That crèche remained a big part of my Christmases even after I married Don and we had our own family. By then Mom and Dad were retired and spent winters in Arizona.

Every December I borrowed the Nativity from their Utah house and displayed it in our bay window. Louise always told me how nice it looked. In January I carefully repacked the figurines and returned them to my parents’.

When Mom and Dad were writing their wills they also listed household items and who should get what. It was no surprise that the crèche was promised to me.

Mom also gave me her opal ring and Louise, her diamond dinner ring. I knew Louise liked the opal ring better, but I didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings by refusing her gift.

Mom’s health worsened and in 2005, she passed away. I took comfort in knowing I’d have the crèche to remember her by. But the list of possessions was lost in the chaos of cleaning out the house.

The Nativity was nowhere to be found either. Who would have taken it? I called Louise, maybe she knew.

“I have the Nativity,” she said.

“You what?” I sputtered.

“I’d like to keep it,” she said.

“Louise, you know Mom promised it to me. Why would you take it?”

But she wasn’t explaining.

Not long after, Don and I moved four hours away for his job. My weekly visits with my sister dwindled to a few times a year. We talked on the phone, but conversations were strained. And if I mentioned the crèche, Louise shut down.

Now I stared at the mantel. So stark and empty, like the place in my heart that my sister had once filled. Five years was long enough. It was time to let go of my bitterness and forgive Louise.

Lord, I prayed, I love my sister. We need to put this Nativity thing behind us. Please help us be close again.

A few days before Christmas, I decided to surprise Louise at her house. We sat down in her kitchen.

“Why won’t you give me the Nativity?” I asked. “You know how much it means to me.”
Louise didn’t say a word.

“Well…” I continued, “I have Mom’s opal ring—the one you’ve always loved. What if I traded you the ring for the—”

“No, Colette,” she cut me off. “We’re not going there.” Why can’t we even talk? It’s never been this way before. I left her house that night feeling more discouraged than ever.

Christmas came and went. That spring Dad died.

After his funeral, my brother’s son, Jed, said, “We need to sort through Grandpa’s stuff. Aunt Louise and I are here in town, so we can take care of it. If there’s anything special you want, we’ll set it aside.”

“Oh, no,” I said sharply. “I need to be there! I can’t trust Louise.” Then I told Jed all about the Nativity.

A few days later Louise called. “Jed told me what you said,” she began.

I braced myself.

“Colette,” she said, “we’re sisters. We should be able to trust each other.”

“Yes, we should. But how can I trust you after you took the crèche? I just don’t understand why you did that.”

“I didn’t do it to hurt you. It’s just…” Louise took a deep breath. “Well, to me the crèche represents something you had with Mom that I never had.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You were the baby, the only one at home,” she said. “You and Mom had all this one-on-one time together. That Nativity makes me feel like I have a part of Mom that I missed out on.”

I’d looked up to Louise for so long, it never occurred to me she might feel inadequate. Now I understood: She’d kept the Nativity not to spite me but to heal her own sense of loss.

With that understanding came forgiveness. The resentment was gone. Somehow it didn’t matter anymore who had the crèche as long as it was treasured.

“I’ve always thought we both had a special bond with Mom,” I said. “Our memories are just different…because of our ages.”

“Okay…” Louise said.

“When I was a kid I used to watch you and Mom in the kitchen and wonder what grown-up stuff I was missing out on,” I said. “Cooking was your way of connecting with her. That’s why she gave you her good china and Grandma’s recipe for Christmas pudding. But I don’t cook. I arrange ceramic manger scenes.”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Louise said. “Look, why don’t you come over here before we go to Dad’s? And bring that opal ring.”

It was so different from the last time we’d met in her kitchen. I gave Louise the opal ring. She slipped it on her finger, her face lighting up.

Then she handed me two cardboard boxes. I recognized my handwriting on them. The Nativity!

“Oh, Louise!” I said. We hugged each other tight.

“I’m so sorry that we’ve had such a hard time over this,” Louise said.

“Me too,” I said. I didn’t just have the crèche back. I had my sister.

This Christmas the Nativity will reclaim its spot on my mantel. Baby Jesus will be front and center, where all can see him, a reminder that Christmas is the season for giving—and forgiving.

View our inspiring slideshow of Crèches around the World.


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