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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses Epiphany

Shoes on the Windowsill

by Carmen Ruggero

My recollections of Christmas in Argentina are over fifty-three years old. That’s just the number of years I’ve been a resident of the United States. The tales I tell, are much, much older.

Christmas trees were not traditional. Tradition was to build a Nativity set following the faith journey of Joseph and Mary. Some were very elaborate. Ours was very humble; but Grandmother’s, now that was something else. It took half of November and the better part of December to build. It was about ten feet in length and four feet wide. It took us on a journey through villages neighboring Bethlehem, and mountains and lakes and ducks and shepherds listening to the Angels, and dodging snowflakes as they followed the star. A work of art.

Not really completed for a while, the manger only contained animals. Closer to Christmas Eve, Joseph and Mary arrived, and on December 24 at midnight, grandmother placed the little baby Jesus on a bed made of hay.

On the following day, we gathered at grandma’s and Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale, were common sounds of joy right along with the scent of roasted lamb, a taste of red wine for the grownups, sweet bread, and family around the table.

But presents? Not yet. The Nativity set was still incomplete.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, three very important figures — Gaspar, emperor of the Orient; Melchior, Nubian King; and Balthazar, ruler of Ethiopia — arrived in Bethlehem on the night of January 5th to honor the newborn King. They each brought gifts and from there stems our tradition to exchange presents on the morning of January 6th.

I know we like to hold on to that poetic notion of a cool and snowy Christmas night under dark star studded skies, but in Argentina, the months of December and January are the hottest ever. That put a twist to our activities between Christmas night and January 5th.

Those were twelve happy days when we didn’t mind cutting grass and pulling weeds and getting dirty. We didn’t have to do it until the afternoon of January 5th, but we wanted the extra points. The night before the royal visit, we put the grass inside a box and placed it in our living room next to a pan full of fresh water for the camels, who never spilled a drop.

Later, we polished our shoes and placed them on the windowsill with a wish-list inside them. On a nearby table, we put a plate with crackers and cheese and three empty glasses for the three Kings who after such a long camel ride from the moon, probably needed food and a glass of wine.

Twelve days seem like a long time to wait for a present small enough to fit inside a child’s shoe. But... not really. During that time we learned patience and discovered that little boxes can hold big surprises. And imagining snow in the middle of summer taught us that faith takes a lot of work.

Eventually, I figured it out. The Kings and their camels had long been dead, and of course my parents were the ones who placed the little gifts in our shoes while enjoying the snacks and wine. Disappointing, yes, but never fear: by February I had forgotten that discovery, and once more believed the Magi and their journey through space were real, as real as the moon from where they came, and they would find my window and leave gifts inside my shoes.

And that lasted one more year.

But just a few years later, I began hearing other things... of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And that redefined a lot of things for this young teenage girl, because I’ve wondered... always wondered... if Neil Armstrong got to meet the Magi.

Copyright © 2012 by Carmen Ruggero

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