In the carol, “said the donkey, shaggy and brown, I carried His mother up hill and down; I carried His mother to Bethlehem town. ... said the cow, all white and red, I gave Him my manger for His bed. ... said the sheep, with the curly horn, I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm. ... said the dove, from the rafters high, I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry. ... Thus every beast by some glad spell, in the stable dark was glad to tell of the gift he gave Emmanuel.”
It is an old French belief that animals are given the power of speech for one hour on Christmas night, but humans better not eavesdrop. Anyone who does will be dead before the year is out.
According to one of the old legends, a hefty servant hid himself in a barn and heard the horses talking about their burdens.
“The servant is very heavy,” one horse said.
Another said, “It is very steep to the churchyard.”
The heavy servant died within the next week and was hauled up the steep hill to be buried in the churchyard.
Another old tale says that an ox and a donkey were in the stable when the baby Jesus was born and that there had been a prophecy that they would be there.
Isaiah had foretold, “In the middle of two living things you will make yourself known. The ox knows its owner and the ass it’s master’s crib.”
The traditional story is that these animals, one on either side of the manger, kept the infant warm with their breath.
Another legend says that at midnight all cattle rise in their stalls or kneel and adore the new-born King. This idea is widespread in England and Europe. A similar belief about bees was popular in the north of England where people believed they assembled on Christmas Eve to hum a Christmas hymn.
Birds are at the center of many Christmas tales. One of the best known recounts how, just after Jesus was born, Joseph went out to gather fuel for the fire. But he was gone so long that Mary feared the fire would go out. As the flames ebbed, some small brown birds appeared and began to fan the fire with their wings, keeping it going until Joseph returned.
When Mary saw that they had scorched their breasts keeping her fire lit, she told them, “From now on you will have a fiery red breast in memory of what you have done for the baby Jesus. People will know you as Robin Red-Breast.”
Have a merry Christmas, but stay out of the barn, just in case.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.