Straws for Baby Jesus

“For Christmas, my parents would put a little miniature manger on our fireplace mantle, and whenever one of us kids did something nice or selfless, we’d get to put a piece of hay in the manger. And then on xmas morning, little baby jesus would appear in the manger, and our parents would congratulate us on how comfortable we made little baby jesus that year, or scold us on how bare his crib was. But the hay we put in was a lot stiffer than the hay that was already in there. They did it to encourage good behavior.”

My informant said that this was a Christmas tradition in his immediately family when he was growing up, and even though he says he thinks it’s kind of dumb now, I know him well enough to know that he enjoyed it then and still appreciates it now.

Adding straw to the manger of the baby Jesus is an inventive and interactive way for the parents to encourage good behavior in their children in a religious fashion by giving them a prize when they do something good. Having something for the children to look forward to is definitely a big part of this practice, which seemed to have become it’s own kind of alternative/addition to the practice of leaving out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas night. Like the cookies for Santa, the straws for baby Jesus practice also include an element of surprise and mystery, because on Christmas morning the children discover that baby Jesus has magically appeared in his crib, it’s own little festivus miracle of sorts. This fun piece of folklore is also a way to enforce religion as a good moral compass: do something good, get rewarded through religion.