“Then I started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, wait, Mary has so many outfits in all of her different apparitions. What if there was a really beautiful Mary doll that looked like other things that are selling?’”
The outfits could help teach children about Mary and her messages in the different apparitions she has made, Campbell added.
“On feast days, you could talk about the different apparitions with your children by getting out her Guadalupe dress or getting out her Fatima dress, and recognizing that she is the same person, but she appears to us differently,” Campbell said.
Campbell said she wanted the doll to help foster a deeper relationship with Mary for children.
“I wanted my daughter to have a doll to teach her about the comfort that Mary brings,” she said.
“In my own life, Mary’s motherly love and care is what has brought me through so many difficult times. As a child, going through things with my family in high school, I would always turn to the Hail Mary, that was my go-to,” she said. “And as I've grown as a woman, I really look to her yes...saying yes to God, even when things are uncertain.”
Campbell made her first Mary doll this year, with a simple blue veil and linen dress, available in three different skin tones.
The idea to use the Mary dolls for “Mary on the Mantel” first came from her web developer, who is the father of four children. He suggested that Mary somehow replaced Elf on the Shelf.
Campbell started thinking of ways to tweak the idea of the traveling elf to better suit Advent, and about the ways Christians can prepare their hearts for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
“Elf on the Shelf reports back to Santa if girls and boys are good or bad, and really in my own spiritual life, I have had to kind of undo that theology of ‘I'm good when I do this and I'm bad when I do this, and God is watching,’” Campbell said.
God is not like Santa, she said, in that he’s not a “transactional God, where as long as I'm doing good, then I will reap the rewards of a gift under the Christmas tree. In my own parenting, I didn’t want to pass that message along to my children.”
“And so I started conceptualizing: what could Mary do instead of being this watchful tattletale? That's going to create a friendship with her? How do we teach children to be friends with Mary?”
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“I started thinking about what Mary was doing, even before they got the census announcement? She was probably preparing her house, preparing all of these things. She went on a trip to see Elizabeth. There are so many ways that we can recognize the personhood of Mary, and talk about that with our children - that she was a girl, she had normal daily tasks that she needed to do.”
In late November, Campbell posted to social media, announcing the idea for Mary on the Mantel - a Mary doll that would show up in different places around the house every morning of Advent.
Instead of Elf on the Shelf’s brand of mischief, Mary would be caught doing things to prepare for the coming of baby Jesus, like washing baby clothes, or reading a pregnancy book, or planning her journey to Bethlehem for the census.
“I have this image of Mary taking our hands and leading us to her Son, a little bit like how I imagine for my own self, having the baby and wanting people to meet her,” Campbell said.
“We get to prepare ourselves for Christmas, and putting up our Advent wreath and our Christmas tree and cleaning the house and wrapping presents - that is similar to our preparation. We prepare homes just as a mother prepares her home to welcome her new baby.”
Instead of reporting on the children’s bad behavior, every morning Mary would be found with a message encouraging children to do a specific act of kindness each day. The notes can be left in Mary’s tote bag, which comes with each ‘Be A Heart Mary’ doll.