A few years ago I visited one of my sister's back in Illinois. It was Christmas time.
Winter in the Midwest is a bleak affair. The land is flat. The sky is an unbroken gray. It's a perfect movie backdrop for suicide.
I think that's why Christmas lights and baby Jesus scenes become the glowing attractions that they are out there.
Let me explain that my sister lives in a town named Paw Paw. It's supposed to be named after a fruit that grows there or a small Indian tribe. I'm not sure.
There are just too many jokes to make about inbreeding and the identity of fathers.
It's a farm town.
It is two and a half hours southwest of Chicago and trapped somewhere in a 1950's Norman Rockwell America with 70's AM radio for a soundtrack and FOX news coming in loud and clear on the TV's.
Most people set up a manger scene on their front lawns. They do the whole thing; three wise men, statues of animals, Mary and Joseph and of course, little lord Jesus asleep in a hay-filled manger.
All of this pious folk art is then strung with lights. It sort of gives the appearance that Mary and Joseph traveled to Reno instead of Jerusalem.
My sister loaded her family up in the jeep and took us on the annual tour.
I started to notice something as we take in the displays.
Over the years some of the statues must of been lost, broken or misplaced in the huge barns that sit hulking on the barren prairie.
What you start to get is a stand-in cast of whatever figures are available. Problem is, sometimes there not the Biblical figures or the replacements were built on a different scale. The manger scenes then become unintentionally hilarious.
In one scene I see the baby Jesus, two wise men, and Santa Claus.
It's particularly striking because this Santa is one of those plug-in ones that glows with a painted plastic light. Being red, he looks like the Devil.
Another scene has everything perfect but instead of Mary, Joseph is standing next to an elf. I suppose it's possible that Joseph might be attracted to an elf, but it's obvious that whatever set the elf originally came from was a much larger scale.
The elf is huge compared to Joseph!
What is supposed to be a humble smile on Joseph's face seems more of an expression of acceptance. Like Joseph has just learned to accept being this massive elf's bitch.
At least all these manger scenes still stay in the Christmas theme. More than a few just assembled whatever characters they had and placed them in the traditional positions. That's the only way I would know that the little mermaid, Frankenstein, and the tin man from The Wizard of Oz were filling in for the wise men.
During the day one creative farmer tied up live animals around his manger scene. Unfortunately he put real hay in the manger so the two cows and four goats were all feeding on the hay. It looked like the animals were eating the baby Jesus alive!