Rolo’s First Nativity ©Debi Evans

There is an air of great excitement in our house. The smiley lady sent the floppy haired boy up a ladder through the hatch and into the loft and he’s passed her down a cardboard box. A big cardboard box. They brought it downstairs. The smiley lady opened the box and lifted out a shoebox and carried it to the table. She took the lid off very carefully and gave a little gasp, as she reached inside to retrieve what appeared to be a tiny mummy. Unwrapping the tissue paper she revealed a fragile doll with wings and a wand.

‘The Christmas fairy!’ the floppy haired boy whispered in awe. Now I should explain that this is not an ordinary Christmas fairy - she is at least 60 years old and was a prize at a fairground stall, won by Grandad Polo who took her home and presented her to his sweetheart, Nanny Joan. The Christmas fairy’s dress was lovingly sewn from net curtains edged with gold braid and her wand fashioned from fuse wire and the tip of it is a screwed up inner foil wrapper of an ancient Quality Street toffee from a Christmas long past. She wears a circlet of gold thread around her yellow hair. The smiley lady told the floppy haired boy that this very special fairy had graced the top of the family Christmas tree for as long as she could remember. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without her presiding over the lounge. The Christmas fairy was laid very carefully on the table whilst other packages were opened.

These contained lights for the tree, a garland for the front door, baubles bought to mark the children’s Christmases; small pewter reindeer from Lapland; knitted Father Christmas and snowman and a few wooden dwarves. This was family tradition and the smiley lady wouldn’t have it any other way. The last box to be opened contained a wooden shelter, a manger and some wooden animals and figures too. A silver star was affixed to the top and a recent addition of an angel was suspended from the spike of the star. Grandad Polo had made this Nativity for the smiley lady’s children and it was the focal point of all the decorations in the lounge. During Advent when the Nativity scene is set up, the smiley lady always hid baby Jesus in a nearby decorative pot and put the Wise Men on the other side of the room behind the television as it was not yet time for their coming. The doorbell rang and I barked from my perch on the back of the sofa. I was shut in the lounge whilst the front door was opened and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the scent of Christmas – the REAL TREE had arrived!

With the house traditionally decorated, that wonderful Christmassy feeling hung in the air, and I couldn’t help sensing a little bit of magic. Left alone in the lounge I glanced up at the Christmas fairy and was amazed when she winked at me.

‘Don’t even think about it!’ her tiny voice tinkled. Did she really think I was going to wee on the Christmas tree?! She asked me if I would like to have a really special adventure and that Athelstan had authorised it. My eyes were as round as mince pies!

‘Have a good look at the Nativity scene Rolo. Can you see what is missing?’

‘Baby Jesus and the Wise Men’ I answered, knowing that the smiley lady never put them in place until the appropriate time. ‘I think they may need your help’ the fairy said, mysteriously.

I leaned into the scene and felt my furry head going a little fuzzy. I had a feeling of warmth even though I was outdoors, like I was in a really warm climate; this was not English winter. There was sand under my paws, not the lounge carpet. I glanced up and saw not a Christmas tree but a palm tree and no fairy on top of it. I could hear the soft lowing of cattle and baaing of sheep and instinctively I followed the sound to an open stable, drawn in by the welcoming smell of hay. I saw a beautiful lady in a blue dress with her head covered, seated beside a manger and a man stood beside her. Both were transfixed by a beautiful new born baby gurgling in its makeshift crib. A golden glow surrounded the baby and the scene was very peaceful. The animal inhabitants of the stable appeared to be kneeling and I too sank down on my haunches, in awe. The baby gave a little cry and I knew at once what it needed. The poor wee thing was lying on a bed of straw and must have been quite prickly and uncomfortable. I went back to the real time lounge and under the approving eye of the Christmas fairy I tugged my blanket off the sofa with my teeth and once more leaned into the Nativity scene.

Before you could say ‘time travelling Jack Russell’ I was back in the stable and tiptoed softly up to the manger and draped my brown doggy blanket around the tiny infant. His mother leaned forward and lifted him, smoothing the blanket over the straw and then laid him gently back down on his bed. The baby wriggled and sighed contentedly. Joseph bent down and patted me and gave me some water to drink. We sat for a while and I barked a warning when strangers approached but it was okay they were local shepherds who had brought their sheep and come to see the baby. The new parents glanced anxiously at the sleeping baby but luckily I hadn’t woken him. The atmosphere in the stable was one of calm and total peace. I felt sleepy, and snuggled up to a young shepherd lad who reminded me of the floppy haired boy who once played that role in a nursery school nativity play with a tea towel tied over his head. When I awoke, the shepherds had gone and I suddenly felt an urgent need to wee. I had to remove myself from this special place and sneaked outside the stable whilst the new family were sleeping. It was breaking dawn and the birth of a new and very special day. I glanced skywards and saw a very bright light glowing overhead and I realised it was a star and it seemed to be illuminating the stable. Then I heard voices and another sound that I can only describe as noisy chewing. I hid behind the palm tree I had just watered. Three camels came into view, two had riders and the third was being led by a man who was muttering aloud.

‘I told you we should have turned right not left at the crossing. We would have been there by now.’ The camels were chewing noisily. All three men seemed to be dressed very grandly. I supposed they must have been of some importance to be riding camels. Each had a box strapped to the saddle of his camel; the boxes were of interesting shape which could only mean presents! ‘Why didn’t you ask those nomads back at the oasis for directions?’ complained one of the seated riders. This made me smile as the smiley lady said that men in general never asked for directions, preferring to work things out for themselves rather than admitting to being lost. I stepped out from behind the tree and the leading camel looked down at me and spat rather unpleasantly on the sand.

‘Good evening’ I said, ignoring the bad mannered camel, ‘May I be of assistance?’ The second rider nearly fell off his camel. Perhaps he was surprised to be addressed by a small toffee and chocolate coloured dog.

‘I don’t suppose you know where we can find the baby?’ said the first one, ‘we come bearing gifts but we seem to have got lost.’

'Ah yes you must be the Wise Men and you are usually behind the television and the smiley lady doesn’t put you in the scene until Epiphany! She makes you navigate your way across the lounge. If you don’t have much of a sense of direction that explains why it would take you a couple of weeks to reach the stable’ I exclaimed, and they looked at me rather strangely.

‘Follow me!’ I said, very pleased to be doing something of great importance, leading the Wise Men like a canine satnav. We came to a halt outside the stable and I watched as the camels lurched forward on their front knees, pitching their riders forward, and then rocking back on their rear knees to come to stillness as close to the ground as they could. The Wise Men dismounted and unstrapped their parcels. The important visitors followed me into the stable and fell as one on bended knee at the scene before them, offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the sleeping baby. Joseph bent down to tickle my tummy and whispered to me,

‘Your gift was the most thoughtful and useful; what our baby really needed was a blanket to lie on. Thank you little pup!’ I put my paws up on the manger and peered in at the baby. He opened his eyes. I’m sure he smiled up at me from the comfort of my blanket. I curled up at Joseph’s feet and drifted off to sleep listening to the Wise Men explaining the significance of their gifts. When I woke up I was surprised to find myself back in the lounge.

‘Rolo where is your blanket?’ asked the smiley lady. She and the floppy haired boy then played a long game of hide and seek but never found my blanket.

‘Mum, how come Baby Jesus and the Wise Men are in the Nativity scene already? It’s not even Christmas Eve yet!’ said the floppy haired boy, pointing at the crib. The smiley lady peered into the stable, scratching her head in puzzlement. The Christmas fairy winked at me from the top of the tree. I avoided eye contact with anyone and carried on busily licking the sand from between my paws.