Quick: Name an animal that reminds you of Christmas. Did you name a reindeer? Most people do. Or perhaps a donkey or ox? Maybe not everyone’s first choice, but still deserving of honorable mention. Well, how about a stork? A robin? A horse or a goat?
Animals don’t play heavily in our modern American Christmas celebration. But here are 10 legends, superstitions, and traditions of Christmas Past that would’ve made Old MacDonald proud.
- Legend has it that the stork plucked out its own feathers to line the manger. This is why storks became the patrons of babies
- It’s said that the robin gets its red breast after flapping its wings too close to a flame in an attempt to keep the manger warm
- In Norway, the julenek is a sheaf of grain set on a pole for the birds on Christmas Eve
- Slesian farmers believed that keeping grain in one’s pocket during Christmas service could later be fed to poultry to make them lay more eggs
- In England, cattle were often wassailed and anointed with cider at Christmas
- Polish farmers gave their cattle an oplatek wafter on Christmas Even and bless them with a sign of the cross
- On Christmas Eve it’s said that the bees hum the 100th Psalm, but only the pure of heart can hear
- Another Polish superstition says that if a man without sin speaks to an animal at midnight on Christmas Eve, it will speak back in a human voice.
- It’s said that the only animal that sleeps on Christmas Eve is the serpent
- Before he had reindeer, Saint Nicholas was often pictured riding a white horse. This was probably inspired by the Norse god, Odin, who rode across the night sky on a horse. Children would leave out carrots and hay for Odin’s horse. Sound familiar?