Last year I was visiting a friend in a hospital in the north, and fairly typically there was a nativity scene in the entrance hall.
It always amuses me how nativity scenes portray this event. I wonder if many of the people who put them together have ever been in
what my north Antrim grandparents would have called a 'byre' - a cattle shed. Can they imagine the stink, the lack of hygiene? In
all likelihood it was a dark, dank, smelly cave with no running water, no lighting, with animals huddling together for warmth, and a
floor covered in dung, both ancient and fresh. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph picking there way through this mess looking for some
sort of 'clean' place?
What amused me about this particular nativity scene in the hospital was that someone had obviously thought it would be a good idea
to use real straw. Fair enough, but it was big chunky strands of straw, and beside the little figures of Mary, Joseph and the wise
men, the straw looked like tree trunks of giant oaks. And they hadn't skimped on it either. Mary and Joseph were up to their
waists in it. The shepherds' sheep were just about poking their heads above it, like drowning men struggling to keep their heads
And as for baby Jesus, he was nowhere to be seen. He had got lost amidst all the straw.
How true I thought. That's Christmas for you - no sign of Christ at all, lost amidst all the straw.