Where is Jesus?

When Julia was born 2 ½ years ago, I started looking forward to Christmases with her. As I nursed and held my tiny baby, I envisioned a little girl drinking hot cocoa, singing Christmas carols, decorating Christmas trees.  And this year, she started to get it. While initially skeptical of my descriptions of Santa, stating “Jia doesn’t like him” when I told her about a jolly old man who flies on a sled pulled by reindeer, this was the most fun Christmas season yet.

 One highlight of the season was the arrival of the crèche my grandfather built when my brother and I were little. Julia squealed with delight when she saw the animals and the little figurines (fewer in number than they were when I was young, thanks to a few overzealous golden retrievers of my youth). I realized as I took them out that Julia had absolutely no idea who they were. “Baby Abe!” she shouted, using the name of a friend’s baby when she saw Baby Jesus. Hmmmm…I thought.

Though we both grew up with various levels of religion in our homes, we have not chosen to raise Julia in any religion. This became abundantly clear as she cradled “Baby Abe” in her arms. Well, I thought, here we go. “That’s Baby Jesus,” I told her. “He was born in this barn, and Christmas is his birthday.” I figured we would start slow. Wouldn’t want to indoctrinate her all at once. “Baby Jesus.” She repeated. Okay, I thought. That wasn’t too bad.

 That weekend, we went to Steamboat, where Wal Mart is the only viable option for errands. Early Saturday morning, Julia and I went in for a few things, Baby Jesus in tow.  As I pushed the cart up and down the aisles, where hunting gear was mixed in with kool aid and Christmas lights were interspersed with vacuum bags, Julia talked about Jesus. “Jia love Baby Jesus soooooo much,” she said solemnly. “Baby Jesus is so cute.”

And then, catastrophe struck. “Jia dropped baby Jesus.” “Oh,” I said, preparing myself for what, with a toddler, is a well-known search: find a tiny, obscure item someplace in a large box store. Mentally preparing to go home and search “Baby Jesus figurine” on Amazon, I figured finding him was a long shot. While I crawled around on my hands and knees, Julia yelled “Where is Jesus?” and “Jia need Jesus!” An elderly woman approaching from down the aisle put her hand over her heart. “It’s just so sweet when they’re still learning about Him, isn’t it?” she said. “It is,” I replied, using all my willpower not to laugh. The smiling woman continued on her shopping, and I continued on my search, until I located Baby Jesus under some dust bunnies between the aisles. “Mama found Jesus!” Julia yelled.

Now, Baby Jesus and his fellow Jerusalemites are packed up until next Christmas. Julia asks for him every now and again, and I can’t help thinking about how strange it is when I say “We’ll see him next Christmas, Julia. Jesus is all packed up.” While Julia did not gain much in terms of religious education this Christmas, I suppose losing, and subsequently finding baby Jesus in Wal Mart was as close as you can get to a Christmas miracle.