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  • I read my daughter the story of Christmas for the very first time when she was three. She chose the story at bedtime from a pile of board books on her floor. I didn't know where the book had come from. A religious cousin on my husband's side? Or maybe my mother, whose greatest sadness is grandchildren raised outside the Church. The board book told the story of Christmas from the barn animals' perspective. My daughter loved animals—barn, wild or other—and after listening to the book, she loved Jesus too.

    The following December, we heard the song "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Mike Douglas on the car radio one afternoon. I had heard the song countless times as a child, and smiled as I watched my daughter in the rear-view mirror enjoying it herself.

    "Mom!" she exclaimed, as the song ended. "Jesus must be turning one this year! The barn animals will be so happy!"

    "Oh, sorry sweetheart," I replied instinctively. "Jesus is dead, remember?"

    "What? Oh no!" She held her face in her hands, and began to cry.

    I backpedaled, explaining that he had lived a long life before he died, that it all happened a very, very long time ago, and that we celebrate Christmas to celebrate his life, not his death. I did not, mind you, mention that Christmas isn't even his real birthday or that barn animals can't talk.

    Then, I held my breath as I waited for her four-year old brain to synthesize my words.

    "Poor Mary and Joseph!" she exclaimed, raising her head to meet my concerned gaze in the mirror. "They must be so sad!!!"

    Aw, fuck it, I thought. I was going to Hell either way.

    "Don't worry sweetheart," I said. "They're dead too."
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