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Everyone is familiar with the animals in the stable with the baby Jesus, the sheep with the shepherds, the camels transporting the Wise Men, Santa and his reindeer, and even the Grinch and his dog Max. However, there are other animals that figure into Christmas -- here are just a few:
If you have ever noticed, all tabby cats have the letter M marked in the fur on their foreheads. The story is that the first tabby with this marking was in the stable when the Christ Child was born. The child was fussing and crying and Mary, exhausted from giving birth, was unable to calm the babe. The tabby cat came forward and curled up with the child. Her purring and kneading calmed the child so that he fell asleep. Mary, in her gratitude, kissed the animal on the forehead, forever marking it and all of its succeeding generations with her initial. Different versions of the legend have some slight variations, but the story is essentially the same..
This is the legend that explains why we cover our Christmas trees with tinsel all because of group of spiders who wanted to see the Christmas tree in one family's home. They were so small in comparison to the ornaments that they had to scurry all over the tree to see everything. In their wake they left their webs, crisscrossing all over the tree. When Santa arrived he was delighted by the joy of all those little spiders, but he knew that the mother of the family would be horrified by the "mess." So he waved one hand over the tree just as the morning sun came in the window and through the miracle of the magic of Christmas the webs all turned to silver and gold.
There is a legend in Britain that says that beekeepers would go out to their hives at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell their bees the story of the birth of Christ. In return they hoped to hear the special hymn that the bees would hum at that time. It is believed that hearing this hymn was a portent health and prosperity for the year ahead. This legend may have its origins pre-Christian as a Solstice tradition.
In Hawaii some of the stock Christmas details don't work very well, so the stories have been updated to account for the island paradise. Santa trades in his fur suit for floral shirt and shorts traditional to the islands. Since sleighs aren't much good in a tropical setting, he comes into town in an outrigger canoe that is pulled by dolphins.
In some European traditions say that at midnight on Christmas Eve even the animals bow down to honor the birth of Christ and are temporarily given the power of speech. This belief still shows up periodically in modern times, as with this excerpt from an episode of Northern Exposure:
"It's an old legend, that on Christmas Eve at midnight, all the animals fall on their knees and speak -- praising the new born Jesus.
(Back in the winter of '68, my Dad was doing a short term for D and D. Mom was -- I'm not sure where Mom was. Anyway, I was home alone on Christmas Eve and I stayed up late to see if my dog, Buddy, would talk. He did -- at least I think he did. I don't remember Buddy's exact words, but that's not important. What matters is that a seven-year-old boy experienced his own personal epiphany.
My point? It's that Christmas reveals itself to each of us in a personal way -- be it secular or sacred. Whatever Christmas is -- and it's many things to many people -- we all own a piece of it. Kinda like Santa's bag, inside there's gift for everyone.
My Christmas wish for you tonight -- may your dog talk." ~ Chris in the Morning
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger