Christmas—it’s not just for humans anymore.
And it really never has been.
Have you ever thought about the role of animals in our holiday celebrations? They’re everywhere!
If we ever needed convincing of the significance of the relationships between humans and animals, we need look no further than the traditions of Christmas.
Certainly animals are a part of the Bible version of the Christmas story. Every Nativity crèche includes, in addition to the figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby, and the Wise Men, small figures of sheep and lambs, donkeys, sometimes camels.
One of the most magical superstitions of Christmas is the belief in some cultures that Jesus was born exactly at midnight and, in the empty, lonely manger, the farm animals acquired the gift of speech. Your kids might’ve stayed up at night, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa, but some children sneak to the stables on Christmas Eve, to hear the animals talk.
Today, a moment that always brings gasps of awe from audience members is when, during the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, live sheep, donkeys and, yes, camels, join actors on the stage in the heart of New York City. People like the Rockettes but they LOVE the animals!
The popular culture of the Christmas season is awash with animals. We love “the most famous reindeer of all,” Rudolph of the red nose. In the TV special Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy dances with abandon and, in a song that always gets airtime at Christmas, Snoopy and the Red Baron reach a truce that recalls the Christmas Truce of 1914.
When the Grinch steals Christmas he is joined, reluctantly, by his little dog, Max, and the Budweiser Brewing company has made a holiday tradition of including their great Clydesdale horses in their holiday ads. I am sure you can come up with many examples that are not popping into my head right now!
I think about my recent blog posts and the animals that populate my little world—the sheep in the jigsaw puzzle, the cat ON the jigsaw puzzle, the woodland animals on my Christmas stocking. Probably at least one-third of all the Christmas ornaments we have include animals in some form.
Animals join my Santas that line the mantle. Almost every one of these Santas has a pet—a dog, a cat, a small mouse. A penguin, a koala, an alligator?
My childhood book of Christmas songs includes the song about Santa’s kitten, Sandy Claws, and Mowzer, the Mousehole Cat, saves the day for the people of that town.
My own pets are not forgotten—I consciously think of ways to make Christmas nice for them. I often make new catnip toys for them. Last year, though, they won the feline equivalent of the lottery—our name was drawn for winning the big basket of toys given away at the veterinarian’s office!
I’ve made Christmas stockings for the cats. I haul out cans of tuna for a feline feast. We’ve engaged in high-level negotiations on the topic of them modeling reindeer antlers or Santa hats, for blog photos. Sadly, those negotiations have recently stalled.
I walk through my local pet store and look at posts on Facebook and know that I am not alone in including my animals in my Christmas celebrations! In fact, compared to what I see, my treatment of my cats is incredibly modest and restrained.
We humans do love our animals, whether they work for us or are our companions. They amuse us, they comfort us with their stolid presence and their unconditional affection. It makes perfect sense to me that we should include them in what is, for many, the most important celebrations of the year.
Where do animals show up in your Christmas traditions? Is there a favorite story or song that features an animal? Do you have pets who open their own gifts at Christmas? Will a sweet cat or lovey dog cuddle up next to you in front of the fire this holiday season?
The main way animals have shown up in my Christmases past are the family cats who couldn’t resist the lure of the shiny objects on the tree, with predictably disastrous results.
Too true–we haven’t had an actual tree for years. The cats are just so darn sure it’s all done for their benefit.
I recently saw an ad for one of those robotic vacuums and thought my cat might like that! But I think I’ll just stick with a new catnip toy for her this year.
Have you seen the YouTube videos of cats riding around on top of those vacuums? My cats would hide in the closet!
I just took a look on YouTube. So funny! I’m tempted to buy one…
Kerry, did you have to write a lovely post on the charms of animals this morning!! Lol … last evening hubby and I were not so charmed with hogs, oh we were talking and so was that stubborn sow, you should of heard her cronies cheering her on as she dashed this way and that!! Oh yes ,animals can talk not just on Christmas Eve. 😁 Oh, yes, our dogs will be included in Christmas with a special treat.
Hmmmm . . . do you notice that pigs rarely show up in holiday stories? I can just see the two of you chasing her around and her thinking it’s a game!
My animals had Christmas food treats and toys. My last dog loved his teddies and loved unwrapping his present. I do miss him so much.
We have friends who just lost their beloved cat this week and I know that will make Christmas less bright for them. Our pets are family members.
Max, our corgi/border collie gets his one tiny stocking with a milk bone in it. He always gets such a sad look on his face, but then he gets a few more in the course of the morning, and sometimes a bit of the Christmas bread….he is a mooch big time!
I can see that sad face in my mind’s eye!
And he is VERY good at the sad face…
Magical post Kerry! Of course, our Charley dog is ALWAYS the center of our universe and this year she will be double lucky with the Walker Boys to spoil her even more. Charley always falls in love with that other christmas animal: the turkey ;o) xo Johanna
Charley will be in dog heaven with all you there, attending to her every wish!
My dog will have a little pile of presents wrapped under the tree and his own little Christmas dinner. What used to be fun was wrapping up catnip balls for the cats we had and watching them rip the paper open to get to them.
Last year, when our cats won the Christmas raffle at the vet’s, I had to put half the toys away for later. They were strewing them everywhere, with the attention span of a two-year-old child! Most of the toys included catnip . . .
There are two donkeys living up the road from us. They have a job: just twice a year, each time in church. Once it’s to illustrate the Palm Sunday story, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The other is to help bring Jesus’ stable scene to life. I wonder what they make of their moments in the spotlight?
Well, if you’re going to work only two days a year, at least do important jobs!
So true…such wonderful post. I was you and your family a very Merry Christmas.
Thanks, Mary Lou–I hope your holiday season is as perfect as can be!
Oh, my favorite animal song at Christmas is one I misunderstood. For years, I thought it was ‘up on the house top reindeer paws.’ Of course they don’t have paws, they have hooves and they were pausing so Santa could jump out. But I still like the idea of hearing reindeer paws on the roof…
Hahaha! That’s a sweet story. Sort of like the one about kids hearing “round John virgin” in Silent Night and thinking of a fat little monk!
Yes. I also led the pigeons to the flag of the United States of America as a child. Sometimes I have to ask people to spell things…
Ha! That one took me a few minutes!
Lisa, that is so sweet!
Mice are one of my favorite Christmas animals. . . “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
I agree! I don’t have the aversion to mice some people do–I feel a little sorry for them.
Christmas would lose half its charm without the animals.
I couldn’t agree more!
A very lovely post, Kerry. Thank you.
There’s always a 4-legged companion in the Christmas stories our family remembers most, and sometimes that “person” is the star of the story. Last year, my feature story for Arabella magazine’s Winter issue was all about the roles (funny, mischievous, accidental and one of downright theft) that our canine companions have played in our family Christmas-es. A happy Christmas to you and your loved ones, Kerry.
You’re right–we haven’t had dogs for years but they were ways right in the middle of the action when I was a kid!
One of ours stole the Christmas ham…
And one of ours stole the Christmas turkey . . . and, yet, we loved them.
Well, we loved ours too. Lucky for him…
Our cats run the place and always have. We have cute pics of them under the tree, a few of them sporting the tiniest of Santa hats (it worked because, a, they were asleep and b, the hat weighs next to nothing) and love to pamper them with catnip toys. We have photos of the boys with the cats on the tree, cat ornaments, purchased and received as gifts, and like you, many ornaments with cats, dogs or mice.
Yup–we have all those things, too, pretty much, except the cats in Santa hats. I value my health too much to try that!
When we had cats we used to give them gifts – why leave them out? One of our cats used to eat lametta – she couldn’t resist the sparkle and we had to make sure it was out of her reach. Fortunately she never came to any harm and she gave us little sparkly gifts in her litter tray!
I had never heard the word lametta before–we call that stuff “icicles”. And, yes, it’s supposed to be quite dangerous for cats!
Every day is like Christmas with our kitties! We are very grateful for them. 🙂
Same here! The kitties rule!
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi I have always believe that how we treat our animals says more about us than how we treat one another. Care and respect for the life of an animal is as important to Christ Consciousness as love of one another. I believe animals do speak, we just don’t know how to understand them usually. My dogs always spoke to me and I always listened. They had quite extensive vocabularies. And they always understand your heart. Now if we could just learn that lesson. Happy new year.
I can tell we see eye to eye on this subject, Marlene! I cannot feel comfortable with or trust a person who disregards the feelings of animals. And I know my cats are talking to me, sometimes all at once! Happy 2017 to you!