Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Journey of the Three Giant Aliens

On the day after Christmas, I ventured into a big box McStore to take advantage of 50% off on all holiday items.  I was specifically looking for wise men, because my nativity set is lacking these, and I've been trying to find some for years, but they never seem to be "sold separately." I've seen many wonderful nativity sets that include wise men, and have often been tempted to just get a new one, but the one I have, while not the finest to be had, has great sentimental value to me, as I've had it since childhood.

Here it is, in all its plastic, badly-painted glory:

You may notice that we added a nursing cow a couple of years ago.  This was when June Amber was going through a cow phase, and it just seemed appropriate to have a mama and her calf at the nativity.  You may also notice that under the angel's outstretched foot is evidence of a roof fire.  This was from the year that I placed a candle just a little too far inside the stable.

What you do not see here is wise men (or shepherds, for that matter).  So joy of joys!  I found three individually sold wise men between the big red bows and the four-packs of plastic Santa cups.  It was even worth waiting behind a woman and her young child who held up the checkout line for a price check on a singing Justin Bieber doll.

So here they are, set up on my dining table and on their way to the manger:

Aren't they handsome?

When I got them home and started playing with them, I noticed this on their (literal not figurative) bottoms:

The fact that they're from China made me wonder where my own nativity set is from, and lo and behold, I inspected it and discovered it's actually from Depose, Italy.  Huh.

But what really interested me on this label is the whole concept of the difference between a "decoration" and a "toy," and why the manufacturers felt it necessary to make such a distinction.  Are there only two categories for what these figures can be?  And what does that even mean, that they should be used ONLY for decoration and not for playing?

After I took the above photos, June Amber came home, and she played with them too, and accidentally knocked one over, resulting in his hand being broken off at the wrist.  Now the "not a toy" warning made some sense.

I decided not to glue the hand back on because it seemed fitting to me that during a long and arduous pilgrimage, there would be such trial and loss.  If you take Eliot's The Journey of the Magi to heart, a much deeper brokenness was experienced by the wise men.  And at least it wasn't the hand he was using to carry his gift to the Christ child.  

Other than that, there was really only one minor issue with my beautiful new magi - they are not quite to the scale of everyone else at the manger.  They are, in fact, twice as big as Mary and Joseph.  But I figure that's okay, because they were supposed to be from a strange land anyway, so who says they couldn't have been giants? (Although I suppose if they're from China, that would be unlikely.)  Also, if you look at it from their perspective of distance, it works.

Only when they reach the stable on Epiphany, will their size seem shocking, and perhaps that's as it should be.  Besides, with a giant benevolent Santa watching over the whole thing, it's all relative.


  1. Well I'm just busting a gut right now!
    A dearth of wise men, the universal problem of barn fires, and the relativity of Santa..
    Oh man, I'm just cracking up!

  2. You know, Kat, I thought of you when I wrote this post, because of the wonderful wit and humor of your writing style. That I made you laugh honors me.

  3. What I love about you is the way you manage to harmonise elements, that for some would seem too conflicting, and just make them work together, somehow. Your new Wise Men are very handsome, I hope you have them for many years, and your nativity scene continues to grow with you.

  4. That is one of the loveliest compliments I have ever received, Eryl. Thank you! My best friend says I "synthesize," and I like that too. In my own mind I think of it as collage-making. You look around at what's there, and since it's right next to each other anyway, you find a meaning in it, you make up a story.

    It's funny, because Eliot was one of the first people who I recognized as a kindred spirit in this regard. I was in a college English class where we were discussing The Wasteland, and people were coming up with all sorts of scholarly sounding interpretations, and I kept thinking - it's a collage.

    Thank you for the blessing on my nativity!

  5. What a lovely post, polli, like a wisp of cool breeze on a hot desert sand. I like your giant magi who come to celebrate the Holy Family. The fact that one lost his hand is touching.
    May your Nativity scene continue to grow and breathe life and joy!

    PS: It is also lovely to discover bits of your home :-)

  6. They are indeed handsome! Handsomest wise guys I've ever seen.

    It's fitting that they were made in China too. Aren't they the "Three Kings of Orient", traveling from the east? And that was an intriguing decision not to glue the hand back on. I'm sure the three wise men lost a few bits of themselves on that long journey. Probably got myopia from staring at the Star of Bethlehem; scoliosis from sitting on the backs of camels for all those ungodly thousands of miles; maybe some gout, too, for all we know. Everybody had it back then.

    Even though we've (ahem) cleared up the issue of whether these three magi are toys or not...

    ...the toys I played with as a kid were MARVELOUSLY disproportionate. I'd have my tiny plastic Army Men; G.I.Joes, half as tall again; dinosaurs and gorillas and plastic sharks, even larger; and stuffed animals, titanic bloated monstrosities of fluff and fur. I liked it. I liked having a scene populated with tiny toys, with gigantic ones looming in the background. Gave sort of a safe feeling, you know? Like the big ones were somehow guarding or watching over the little ones.

  7. Yes! Maybe it's because I'm currently reading a book of Zen stories, but the disproportionateness of toys is suddenly striking me as koan-like.

    To a kid, everything is a toy, and to me Christmas is to remind us how to be kids. So.



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