Advent, My Way #18

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?