Marta and the Manger Straw
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I came across this beautiful book by accident one year. We are huge bibliophiles in our house, so we visit book sales for fun.
At one particular book sale, my kiddos all rummaged through piles of books being sold for a quarter and found a big pile they wanted. How could I say no to books for a quarter?
So we bought them all, ha, ha!
We read them when we got home, and some were, naturally, a disappointment. Like the Barbie fairies book. Blech!
But among the pile was ‘Marta and the Manger Straw’, which we all immediately fell in love with! I don’t think it’s a very widely known book, but it, singlehandedly, made that trip to the book sale worthwhile!
Marta and the Manger Straw: A Christmas Tradition from Poland by Virginia Kroll
Virginia Kroll was inspired by a true event to write this heartwarming story. She inscribed it, “I dedicate this book to the 732 Polish refugee children who came to New Zealand in 1944 due to the event of the Second World War, and whose presence has enriched our lives.”
The story is based on an ancient Polish custom of taking bits of straw from church manger scenes and holding the straw close in their pockets or handbags. This, they believe will help them never to be without wealth in the coming year.
Marta and the Manger Straw is the gentle story of a child who was given a stalk of straw from the manger display at her church to take home to her impoverished family. The priest told her “Take a piece of straw from the manger. Keep it with you, and you will have riches all year. And remember, Marta, there are different kinds of riches.”
As Marta goes her way, she meets others who are much poorer than she, and she shares her piece of straw with each of them.
First, Marta visits her Babcia (grandmother) who is sick and almost out of tea. Because of her illness, Marta’s grandmother couldn’t get to church to grab a piece of straw. Marta breaks off a piece of her straw and gives it to her grandmother in the hope that her health would improve.
Next, Marta generously gives some firewood and a piece of the manage straw to an old woman who is suffering from the cold.
Finally, Marta gives the very last piece of straw, which she herself had cherished, to a starving dog. He was begging for food and since she had no food to give him, she tied the straw into his fur.
Worried and feeling sad, Marta believes she’s now doomed to poverty. However, when Marta and her mother have a horrible misfortune in their lives, all of the people that Marta had shared the straw with come forward with generous gifts. It seems that the straw had helped them all in some way.
‘Marta and the Manger Straw’ teaches the valuable lesson that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It also demonstrates gently that there different types of riches, not all of them financial.
The book is also a valuable tool to teach different cultural Christmas traditions.
Literature Activity: Build Your Own Giving Manger
Many years ago, we found the story, Straw for the Manger, in a church magazine.
Several times over the years since then, we’ve celebrated Christmas by building our own giving manger. We talk about simple ways to serve each other and our neighbors and even strangers we come across.
Then we grab a handful of hay from our haystack and leave it near the empty manger, so our kids can add a piece to the manger for each kind deed they do.
The goal for the next week is to secretly do acts of loving kindness. For each secret act of love, we place a straw in the manger.
Jesus is coming! We must prepare a place for him and we will do that by loving and serving others for His sake. The idea is to build a soft and comfortable bed made from acts of love for the Christ child who will arrive on Christmas Eve.
Here is a picture of our manger. My husband made this one from craft sticks and hot glue. In the past we’ve also used small boxes and even an envelope one year, when our baby Jesus was drawn on paper, and the ‘straw’ was just strips of paper.
It doesn’t have to be fancy!
Look how simple our baby Jesus is. My 12-year-old made him. She just sewed two oblong pieces of felt together, drew his face on with a Sharpie, and wrapped him in felt swaddling clothes. We all think he is perfect!
As you can see we have been busy filling the manger this season. It has helped us to realign our priorities and shift our desires from ‘me’ to ‘others’. Arguments are a little less frequent, and love is a little more prevalent as we all strive to soften the manger for the baby Jesus.
I don’t know if my kiddos realize what a marvelous gift they are giving me, along with our savior! I’m telling you — it’s glorious!
Literature Activity: Polish Straw Projects
An ‘Author’s Notes’ page at the end of ‘Marta and the Manger Straw’ explains the various straw customs in Poland. There is also an activity page where readers can learn how to make several Polish straw projects including straw in a manger scene, straw garlands, placement of a piece of straw in your Christmas cards, traditional straw ornaments and a straw star.
Your kiddos would enjoy any of those projects. If you don’t have easy access to straw, you can snip twine or raffia into appropriate lengths and bundle the lengths together like straw.
Literature Snack: Baby Jesus in a Manger
Aren’t these little snacks adorable? I found them at Discovery Moments.
You need:Pretzel rod stable
Potato sticks straw
Hot dog Baby Jesus in crescent roll swaddling clothes.
I hope you enjoyed today’s storytime! Please join us for our other Christmas-themed storytimes!
If you enjoyed this fun storytime, ‘Marta and the Manger Straw’, check out my other Christmas Story Time selections!