“Christmas to New Year’s is our great moment, and the loveliest of all Christmas customs was Menin Jesu, the little Jesus, brought by the Portuguese from the Western Islands. The older Portuguese people once kept open house from Christmas to New Year’s. Every window in their house had a candle behind it. A home ablaze with lights meant that everyone was welcome, whether or not he knew the host. Indeed, the most welcome and honored guests were the strangers.
In the front room was a pyramid of graduated shelves. One candle on top, on the next shelf two saucers of sprouted wheat; on the next, two candles; on the next, four saucers of sprouted wheat, and so on. These represented the Resurrection and the Light. At the bottom was a crèche of little figures brought from the Western Islands. To everyone who came was given a tiny cordial glass of homemade wine—beach plum, elderberry, or dandelion—and a tiny cake.
The Avellars and ourselves used to go at Christmas through the western part of town, seeing down a dark lane, under willow trees, houses brilliant with light. In the distance there was the sound of music and singing. The ships’ bands of Portuguese instruments, from the great vessels, went from house to house, saluting the Menin Jesu. In some houses they would have both the Menin Jesu and a Christmas tree—the Christmas tree, with its presents, looking materialistic and Teutonic beside the sprouted wheat and the lights. Little by little the custom of Menin Jesu has vanished. Only a few very old people still celebrate it.”
—Time and the Town: A Provincetown Chronicle, by Mary Heaton Vorse, © 1942
8 Replies to “MENIN JESU: THE LITTLE JESUS”
At least your Creche has a Baby Jesus. Ours went A.W.O.L. years ago. I don't want to contemplate the possible spiritual applications of that.
The Orchards of Perseverance (a title I see near the crèche) — good book!
And I like the one in East Hollywood! I've never seen Father Christmas included in the nativity scene. This gives him his proper place; instead of railing against him, someone has embraced him, and brought him in so that he belongs,too (as the original St Nicholas certainly belonged).
Hi Jane, isn't that tableau great?–the Holy Family and Santa (which after all, does mean saint).
Yes, Tom, The Orchards of Perseverance I love–it's stories about/from the monks at the Cistercian monastery in Vina, California, folks…
And Owen, that IS strange. Could the baby Jesus have just up and left?…Maybe he'll show up one day where you least expect him…
The little wooden Jesus has been absent since the kids were little. The Creche is small, wooden and old. It's kind that was ubiquitous in Sunday School rooms 20 to 40 years ago. We got ours at a thrift shop. At the time everyone was present and accounted for. Over the years we gained a Magi and a sheep or two but the Christ Child hit the road.
A few years back our eldest daughter bought us large Nativity figures from Ten Thousand Villaegs (which began as a Mennonite run fair trade co-op long before the words fair and trade where used together). I believe the artisan is Nigerian. While there is no creche at least everyone is present.
Well, looks like another day at Mom's, happily hindered from travel by winter storms and questionable hi-ways.
The Nativity of Christ
There is so much in life that can make us fall into bitterness, judgement and despair. The birth of our Lord reminds us of humanities treasured place in the heart of God. The soul of humankind is redeemed and finally gets a glimpse of it's worth through the birth and life of our Lord and Savior.
All of Jesus' life has meaning. The fact that His life began with the innocence, beauty and complete dependence of infancy means something. We all have this same beginning. All are equal in this way. The ideas of self-will, self-reliance, self-gratification are not part of an infants existence, they have not yet creeped into the soul. These dark, prideful notions are what keep us from God, from seeing His face and feeling His love in our hearts. Jesus' life shows us how to turn back to this place of innocence. He reminds us that even though life is a journey filled with many things, the answers we seek were all present in the beginning. Salvation begins when we go back to this beginning and are able to recognize it, through the Light and eyes of Christ, for the very first time.
I grew up in Ventura County and that plastic light-up Nativity scene looks like the exact one my crazy parents brought from Oxnard all the way to grouchy Pennsylvania. The same Santa sits right outside the manger in their snowy yard right now. The neighbors hate it, because everyone in the scene glows hard from Christmas Eve until Epiphany, but I love it. It reminds me of the California Christmas of my youth:)Thanks for posting that picture.
Mimi, thank you for this beautiful reflection on the infant Christ. And Theophany, so glad the pic brought back memories. The house is right down the street from Immaculate Heart of Mary in East Hollywood where I often attend 5:30 p.m. Mass. I wander the streets around there a lot, ending up in the Armenian mom-and-pop grocery stores on Santa Monica Blvd…Feta, black olives, black currant juice…another kind of Eucharist…