by Cynthia Reeg
Illustration by Jack Foster
Ana unwrapped the last nativity figure. “La Santa Noche (O Holy Night),” she sang.
"Oooh, this one is my favorite.” She set the third wise man in place.
“Where’s the shepherd boy with the jingly staff?” asked her brother Tomas. “He’s my favorite, but I can’t find him.” He pushed aside an empty box.
“Mama, is this all of the decorations?”
Mama’s head popped out from behind the Christmas tree. “Sí, that’s all.” Mama nodded to their tiger-striped kitty. “Has Neto hidden him?”
“I don’t think so.” Tomas frowned. They all searched for the lost figure.
"We've looked everywhere," said Ana with a pout.
“The shepherd boy is really, truly lost!” Tomas threw down an empty box.
Mama hugged the children. They all stared sadly at the nativity, their Nacimiento. Their favorite Christmas decoration. Now a cloud seemed to hang over the little stable.
Advent hurried by. Every day, Tomas and Ana opened a door on their Advent calendar. A bit more of the nativity appeared behind each new door.
“Look,” cried Ana, opening the calendar door for December 23. “The shepherd boy.”
Papa looked up from his coffee cup. Tomas ran to Ana, but he shook his head. “I thought you had found our lost shepherd boy.”
“Don’t look so sad, Tomas,” said Papa. “You have much to be thankful for this Christmas. One lost piece to the Nacimiento shouldn’t spoil your fun.”
“But, Papa,” said Ana, “I think Tomas is right to care about the lost shepherd boy. We learned Jesus’ story of the one lost lamb. The shepherd left all the others to find it.”
“How could I forget?” Papa smiled. “God does care about all of us. I’m sure He will help you find the lost shepherd boy. We just need to have faith.”
“I have faith!” sang Ana, skipping out of the kitchen.
“Not me,” said Tomas. “Not anymore. Believing in stuff like that is for little kids.” Tomas jabbed the Advent calendar door closed. “The shepherd boy is lost…perdido. God doesn’t care about a silly toy shepherd.” Or perhaps me either, thought Tomas.
Later that night, Tomas and his family joined the Las Posadas celebration. They walked from house to house in their neighborhood. Ana carried a small statue of Mary. Their neighbor boy, Juan, carried a small statue of Joseph.
Like in the Bible story, they were all pilgrims--los Peregrinos. They pretended to be on their way to Bethlehem. They held lit candles and sang the Posadas song, "Canto Para Pedir Posadas" (Carols to Ask for Shelter.) They knocked on each door, but no one let them come in. Finally, at the last house, the innkeeper family welcomed them inside.
Now it was Christmas Eve--la Noche Buena. On this night came the most holy celebration of all, Misa de Gallo--Midnight Mass. A troubled Tomas gathered with his family in a front church pew.
“Ooh! Look, Tomas.” Ana pointed to the church’s large nativity figures.
The bright faces of the Nacimiento figures seemed so real. Ready to come to life. They were like the characters in "La Pastorela," the Christmas miracle play. They’d seen it last week at the community theater.
Tomas blinked. Now he was getting carried away like Ana. He breathed in the fresh evergreen scent and sighed.
Tomas wanted to believe in miracles. He wanted to believe they would find the lost shepherd boy. He wanted to be filled with faith like Ana, but he felt empty. Like a flattened party piñata. He felt lost. With his eyes fixed on the smiling baby in the manger, Tomas prayed. “Help me believe.”
Later that night, the clock’s three a.m. chime woke Tomas. As he lay in bed, he thought of all his unopened presents. He thought also of the lost shepherd boy.
Early on Christmas morning, his family would rise to open a few of the presents. The rest would be saved for January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany--el Día de los Reyes. This is the celebration of the three kings' visit to baby Jesus.
Tomas crawled silently from bed and tiptoed down the hall. The Christmas tree lights glowed with promise. “La Santa Noche," Tomas hummed softly. “This is the Holy Night.”
He nodded to the nativity before him. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and even the wise men all wore such hopeful looks on their faces. They seemed to be waiting for something … or someone.
Tomas carefully picked up the figures one by one. He arranged them in a semi-circle around him. Still holding baby Jesus in his hands, Tomas let the soft silence wrap around him. He let the Christmas lights warm him. Tomas lay down and closed his eyes.
“Here he is at last!” said Joseph. He patted Tomas. The bells on Tomas’ shepherd staff jingled.
Shepherd staff? Where had that come from? Tomas looked down. He now wore high-topped boots and a belted shirt. He touched the small sombero on his head. He must look like the shepherd boy from the Christmas miracle play. Something fuzzy and warm squirmed beneath his arm. Tomas gasped. It was a wooly lamb!
“Baaah!” Tomas set the noisy lamb down on the stable hay.
“So you found the lost lamb, eh?” said an older shepherd. He winked. “We thought you might have gotten lost as well.”
I don’t understand this, thought Tomas. Somehow I’m a part of the Nacimiento.
“Welcome,” said Mary with a soft smile. “We were worried about you.”
Tomas stepped forward, but he was lost for words.
“Did you follow the star like us then, young sir?” Tomas looked behind him. Three men in fancy clothes stood there. They held golden boxes in their hands. It was los Tres Reyes--the Three Kings.
A baby’s cry echoed against the cold stable walls. Mary bent down. With great care, she picked up a tiny newborn from the manger. Joseph’s brows were knotted.
“What is it, Mary? Is He all right?”
Mary rocked the baby as she sang a soothing lullaby. Joseph leaned closer. He shook his head. “What a poor bed I’ve found for you, my little Jesus.”
Tomas stepped back. He didn’t want to see the sadness in Joseph’s eyes. His staff bells jingled as he moved. The baby’s cries stopped.
Tomas stepped forward. He jingled his staff gently above Jesus’ face. The baby smiled. Tomas grinned. He held out his staff to Joseph. “Here, he likes the sound.”
“Thank you,” said Mary with a twinkle in her eye. “Just what my little shepherd boy needs.”
Tomas felt his face glow.
Joseph patted him again. “God put his faith in you, boy, to set things right.”
“Hmmmm….faith…” murmured Tomas. He rubbed his eyes. He blinked at the early morning sunshine. Morning! It must be Christmas morning! Tomas sat up. In his hands he still held the Nacimiento’s baby Jesus.
“Happy Birthday, Jesus!” Tomas lay the baby carefully in the manger. Then he looked at all the presents under the tree. Not one of them was a gift for baby Jesus.
But, wait. He had an idea.
Tomas ran to his crumpled coat. It lay on the living room floor. He’d dropped it there after returning from Midnight Mass. Tomas pulled a candy cane from the coat pocket. Now if he could only find a few little bells to wrap around it, he would have the perfect gift for baby Jesus. A jingling staff just like in his dream.
Tomas looked up at the tree. There! A tiny shining ribbon of bells peeked out from the thick green needles. Tomas pulled on the ribbon.
Huh! What was this? The bells were attached—to a staff! And the staff was attached—to the lost shepherd boy!
Tomas laughed. His kitty Neto must have hidden the figure in the tree after all. Tomas carefully placed the jingling shepherd boy beside baby Jesus’ crib.
Tomas looked down the hall. He could hear noise coming from Ana and his parents. Soon his family’s Christmas day celebrations would begin.
Smiling, Tomas jingled the shepherd boy’s bells. Neither he nor the shepherd boy were lost anymore. Thomas felt safe and warm, like the little lamb he’d held in his dream. “Feliz Navidad,” Tomas said to the sleepy baby Jesus. “Merry Christmas!”