The tradition, referred to in the book as La Crèche, is that the family or the children build a manger (La Crèche) to put by the fireplace or the tree. Mommy and Daddy discuss how Baby Jesus was placed in a manger when he was first born with only straw to keep him comfortable and warm. During the holiday season the children add a piece of straw to the manger at the end of the day for each good deed they did.
"Thus the Christ Child, coming on Christmas Day, finds an ample supply of tender straw to keep Him warm and to soften the hardness of the manger's boards" (Francis Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, 1958).The author of this blog, Catholic Icing, says they add Baby Jesus to the manger on Christmas while singing "Away in a Manger." I might spare the children my singing voice though. We don't want to create the Christmas tradition everyone dreads. Ha.
I think some people make a manger for each person, but I wanted a family manger because I didn't want it to become a competition to see whose had more straw. Making it a family effort to fill the manger seemed really important. I also plan on modeling good behavior to the children by having my husband and I participate. Maybe it's silly, but I feel like it's better to do yourself what you expect your children to do (ie. writing thank you notes). This year, where G is only 2 and fairly non verbal, I'm going to help him by telling him what he did well that day and letting him add the straw.
Here's some information on the tradition (the links for making the manger also discuss this):
Here's some links for making a manger. Just make sure you're careful about preventing fires this holiday season. I'm assuming straw too close to the fireplace isn't a great idea:
I used the paper crinkle stuff because it's cheap, easy and clean. We started last night and G REALLY liked adding the straw. I went through all of the good things he did that day, one at a time, and let him add a piece of straw for each thing he did well. He's really loving the chest and likes to carry it around now. It's pretty goofy. At this age, I haven't really gone into the explanation behind it yet. I don't think he'd quite understand. At some point, I'm hoping to find a children's book that talks about the tradition.