Visiting the Manger

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson knew that Christmas was a special time. His mother and Aunt Lillibet always cooked mountains of food, and Aunt Moss and Benson made presents for everyone, little toys made out of clay or gumnuts and felt, and paper fans and bookmarks, and plants in pots decorated with potato stamps, and cards that said, ‘Happy Christmas’.

Pascoe the story teller came to stay for a few days to help eat all the food. Benson told her everything that had happened since last time they saw her, about the landslide and Aunt Moss being sick, and the quoll, and Pascoe listened so that she could make them into stories to tell other people. And she told Benson and his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss all the stories she had heard.

Benson wanted to know why Christmas was so special, so Pascoe told him all about baby Jesus being born, how his mother and his father had to travel a long long way with a donkey to another town, and then when they got there it was time for the baby to be born but the only place that had room for them to stay was a stable filled with animals.

“What sort of animals?” Benson wanted to know.

“Oh, just cows and donkeys, maybe an ox,” Pascoe said.

“No wombats?” Benson asked,

“No, no wombats,” Pascoe said. Then she told him the rest of the story, about shepherds coming to visit the baby, and angels singing and everyone being happy and excited.

“What are angels?” Benson asked.

“Sort of flying messengers,” Pascoe said. “Angels announce things, and tell people what’s happened.”

“Like you,” Benson said.

“A bit,” Pascoe said. “But with white dresses and wings, and lots of gold sparkles. I can show you one if you like.”

“You’ve got an angel?” Benson gasped.

“No, but there’s a manger outside a church, not too far from here, with statues of angels and shepherds and baby Jesus and his mother and father,” Pascoe said.

“Can we go?” Benson asked his mother breathlessly.

Benson’s mother said of course they could go.

Pascoe said, “The people in the church don’t like animals like us getting too close, but if we go at night there’ll be no-one around so it should be okay.”

It was the night before Christmas. Aunt Lillibet packed lots of fruit cake in case they got hungry, and they set off as soon as it got dark. As they went along, other animals heard about where they were going and they came along too, Benson’s friends Roly, and Nils and Nella, and Whipple the sugar-glider, and Zali and her mum and little Zip.

It was a long walk, but everyone was so busy talking and being excited they didn’t notice.

The manger was in the middle of a yard next to a big church. They all came up very quietly and stood looking. The statue of the baby was in a little box full of straw, with his mother and father beside it. Next to it there were big statues of a cow and an ox and a donkey. There were even some shepherds, with sheep and a lamb. It was so beautiful that everyone just stood there staring.

Then Nils and Nella noticed a shining white angel on the roof of the stable and they climbed up to see it. After that all the animals crowded in to get a better look at the baby and the giant animals. Roly ate some ants that were walking on the ox’s feet, and Whipple swooped between the horns on the cow and the shepherd’s stick. Zali picked up the lamb and was giving it a cuddle.

Suddenly Pascoe said, “Listen!”

Everyone listened. They heard the sound of a car driving up.

“There are people coming!” Pascoe said “Quick, hide!”

Zali’s mother said, “Where’s Zip? I can’t find her anywhere.”

They could already hear the car doors opening and people getting out. There was no time to hide. Benson’s mother hissed, “Everyone freeze!”

All the animals stood as still as statues.

The people who had gotten out of the car came up to the manger. There was a father and a mother, and a big boy and a smaller girl. The father had a big torch and he turned it on.

“See?” he said to his children. “I told you it would be more beautiful at night.”

The children said, “Look at all the animals! There’s an echidna and possums and wombats and everything!”

The mother said, “It’s nice to see some native animals for a change.”

The girl said, “They look as if they’re alive!”

“It’s amazing what they can do with computer graphics,” the father said.

The boy said, “I think they are alive. That possum just blinked.”

“No,” said the father, “it’s just clever robotics.”

The girl said, “Look, there’s a baby wombat sleeping next to baby Jesus!”

“That’s so sweet,” the mother said. “Is that a wallaby, next to the donkey?”

“I think it’s a kangaroo,” the father said.

“Are you sure?” the mother said. She reached out a hand towards Pascoe, who was starting to wobble with the strain of standing so still.

Benson had to do something. The boy was standing right beside him. Benson said softly, “Pssst!”

The boy jumped, and then he looked down at Benson. Benson pointed to a sign that said, Do Not Touch.

The boy nodded and said to his mother, “The sign says, Do Not Touch!”

The mother pulled her hand back. “You’re right,” she said.

The boy gave Benson a little smile. Benson winked back.

The father said, “It’s time to go, anyway.” They turned to go back to the car.

Benson breathed a sigh of relief, and the straw dust got into his nose. He sneezed.

The whole family turned around.

“Achooo!” said the boy loudly.

The mother said, “Oh, it was you! For a minute I thought it was that little wombat that sneezed!”

The family got back in the car and drove off. The boy waved to Benson and Benson gave him a wave back.

“Finally!” said Nils, swinging down from the angel’s wing. “I thought they were never going.”

Everyone started talking at once. Zali’s mum got little Zip out of the manger, and Benson’s mother unpacked the fruit cake, and they ate and talked and laughed until it was time to go home.

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