But then there was Birdy, kneeling to unwrap each piece of the crèche like the treasure that it was, lining everyone up on the coffee table with a million questions. As may be typical of agnostic half-Jews, I don't really know the whole story. "Those are the Magi," I say confidently. "The three wise men who brought gifts for the baby." "Then why are there five of them?" Birdy wants to know, and I shake my head, squint at the figures. "This one might be Joseph," I say. "The baby's stepfather. And maybe that's the shepherd whose stable they're sharing? I'm not actually sure." "What presents did they bring?" Birdy asks now, and, when I answer with the mysterious "Frankincense and myrrh," she says, like the Nativity accountant she has become, "Mama, that's only two presents." Before I can respond, Birdy has already moved on. "Why are there farm animals and zoo animals?" she wants to know. "And who's the baby's real dad?"

Jesus wakes briefly, and the ox, remarkably maternal in his bovine way, gets up to cuddle him while snow drifts past our new windows, blankets our new garden beds where, surely, beneath the ice, spring bulbs are dreaming of green. But now it's back to bed for everyone: wall-to-wall kings and shepherds, cows and camels, and an exhausted mother whose happy-sad eyes never close. Birdy hums a little lullaby, kisses the tops of porcelain heads, man and beast each in turn, and peace washes over all of us. However much you might envy Mary her newborn, and whatever you believe or don't believe about Jesus Christ, there is just no getting around the beauty of this little girl tucking everyone in safely over and over again. It's all a kind of Christmas dollhouse to her, sure—but to me it's the timeless and universal idea of shelter. And so, finally, I am home.


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