A legend shared common to many countries holds that animals talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. The downside is that the animals talk about their humans and the humans may hear the prophecy of their death. Pragmatic Englishmen changed the legend so that humans cannot hear the animals, thus avoiding bad news.
It can be deduced from any Nativity Scene that a variety of farm animals attended the event of the birth of Jesus. A donkey bore Mary. Lambs, sheep and goats were with the shepherds. The ox and ass are mentioned in descriptions of the stable scene. Camels provided transport for the Wise Men. Many more animals are included in Christmas tales and pageantry.
Native people of the Americas tell of deer who kneel on Christmas night, looking to the sky as if praising the Great Spirit. Cribs handcrafted by Tribes of the United States and Canada include the fox, buffalo, and the bear in the mangers.
On Christmas Eve in Britain, bees gather to hum hymns; oxen and cattle rise in their stalls or kneel in adoration of the new born king. In other lore, spiders provided the original version of tinsel by decorating trees with cobwebs. Tales credit Santa or angels or Jesus for turning the gray webs into gold and silver. To this day, it is said that every tree should have a spider ornament to acknowledge the happy spirit of the Christmas spider.
According to European legend, Santa provides for the animals as well as children. He places grain all about for them on Christmas Eve. Polar bear cubs know that Santa only comes after they go to sleep. In his off time, Santa is known to play with the animals around his North Pole home as well as feed and care for them.
Legend put St. Nicholas flying through the night sky in a sleigh or carriage drawn by goats or dogs, or on horseback. The reindeer-drawn sleigh was created by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore who researched a variety of Christmas customs and legends before composing “The Night Before Christmas.” The 1822 poem was to be read to his children on Christmas Eve. The flying reindeer concept may have resulted from tales of Sami tribesmen who traditionally over indulged and then imagined that their herds could fly.
A 1701 woodcut portrays animals sharing the news of the birth of Jesus. Speaking in Latin, the rhythm and words of the rooster, raven, rook, ox, sheep and ass language sound like the natural voice of each animal so the recital is popular with children.
The cock crows: ‘Christus natus est.’ (Christ is born)
The raven asks: ‘Quando?’ (When?)
The cow replies: ‘Huc nocte’ (This night)
The ox lows, ‘Ubi? Ubi?’ (Where? Where?)
The sheep bleat out, ‘Bethlehem, Bethlehem’
Voices from heaven sound: ‘Gloria in Excelsis!’ (Glory be on high)
Tabby cats received the letter “M” for Madonna on their forehead as a reward for a tabby kitten comforting baby Jesus in the manger. The robin is said to have fanned the flames by flapping her wings all night to keep the new born warm. The robin’s chest became red from being kept painfully close to the flames for so long.
Throughout history, in our homes, hearts and memory, animals are an inseparable part of the magic of the holiday season. Treasure the spirit of Tahoe’s wild animals and the gift of unconditional love from your pet this year.
— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.