An Old Myth of Christmas
by Martha Rogers
Years ago, we had a set of encyclopedias that included Books of Knowledge. One of those had myths and legends from various parts of the world. One myth became a particular favorite of ours, and it involved talking animals.
Christmas is a time for miracles, to believe in the supernatural, and have faith in Christmas wishes. Christians view Christmas as a sacred holiday celebrating the birth of our Savior. Born in a manger, announced by angels, and visited by shepherds, Jesus' birth became a miracle of love like no other.
Because of the manger and the type of animals that may have been present, the legend was born. No one knows exactly when the legend began, but it goes a long way back in Norse mythology.
According to the legend, at the stroke of midnight, the animals in the stable spoke and praised the baby. Mary and Joseph heard them, but no one else did. As soon as the shepherds arrived, the animals lost their speech.
Thereafter, every Christmas Eve in barns throughout Norway, the animals had the power to speak and praise the Lord for only a few minutes. Children were said to sneak out close to midnight and look for a barn so they could hear the animals, too.
Since the Bible never mentions animals speaking at Jesus' birth, how did this legend come to be? Perhaps Mary and Joseph decided no one would believe such a thing that they never mentioned it, so it never made its way into the account with shepherds. As the story was told through the years, children wanted to hear for themselves, thus their searching for a barn on Christmas Eve.
Some tie the legend to pagan beliefs, but most think of it as a miracle especially for the Christ Child. One version appeared as an animated film on television in 1970. In this version, the animals ran through the streets insulting each other and exalting in their new found power before they realized they had the ability in order to spread the word about Jesus' birth. But it was too late. As they ran down the streets of Bethlehem, one by one, each animal lost its speech. The ox is the last one and his last words lament humanity's waste of words and languages.
A carol, "The Friendly Beasts" was written about the event. The carol is a light version of the story in song. The words concentrate on the connection of the animals to the Jesus' birth. The donkey said he carried Jesus' mother up hill and down, the cow gave his manger for a bed, the sheep gave his wool for a blanket warm, and the dove said she cooed him to sleep from the rafters up high.
Christmas is a time of many different legends including the poinsettia, the candy cane, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and mistletoe. They are all tied to love and giving and point to the greatest gift of love this world has ever known--the gift of Jesus Christ.
Do you have a favorite Christmas legend or story?