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talking to animals on Christmas Eve

It's becoming a bit of a Christmas Eve tradition to share this reflection from Nancy Janisch of Conversation in Faith, a heartfelt and hopeful complement for 'the night before' ...

When you were young, did anyone ever tell you that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas?  I don’t remember who told me, but I do remember looking expectantly at our family Dachshund for several years on Christmas Eve.  For the record, he never said anything.  At least not in a human language.

A quick internet search didn’t turn up much about the origins of this legend, which is a little surprising and frustrating in this day of easy on-line research.  But it does give us the space to speculate and theologize a bit.

There is a longing in children to talk with animals.  What else explains the Doctor Dolittle stories?  What else explains the long, one-sided talks between a child and a patient dog or cat (or horse or hamster)?

I wonder if that longing isn’t the remnant of our memory of the way things were supposed to be.  Somehow as children we know that our relationship with animals is not what is should be.  A child should be able to put her hand near the wasp, and we should not have to flee from a bear or run from a lion.  As children we long for the harmony which we know is missing from the world.

That missing harmony begins to be set right at Christmas.  Long before we have the theological language to describe it, we know that when Jesus is born, God come among us, the healing has begun.  The Good News is here.  At the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, heaven and earth are joined.  Angels and shepherds sing, and legend suggests that even the animals joined in the praise.  The world was set right for a moment. 

The underlying assumption of this legend is that the animals know God and are in relationship with God.  Until we get talked out of it, many of us start with the very Biblical assumption that all of creation, everything and everyone, can praise God.  Animals, in their animal way, praise God.  And on Christmas, we humans may be given a glimpse of the reality of animals.

I’m a grown person now, well past the age of childhood dreams.  But yet, each Christmas I catch myself  looking at my cats and hoping this is the Christmas they speak.  Hoping this is the Christmas that the world is set right.  May it be so …

(originally posted 12/24/09; many thanks to Nancy, a valued contributor, for sharing "Talking to the Animals on Christmas Eve," first posted on her blog Conversation in Faith; photo copyright Beth Van Trees/; "The Peaceable Kingdom" painting by American folk artist and Quaker minister Edward Hicks (1780-1849), via CGFA/Wikimedia Commons)

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Reader Comments (7)

Lovely blog, I am familiar with the legend of the talking animals from our tradition here in Ireland also.Hurry the day when all the harmony of creation will be restored and the lion will lye down with the lamb !

Dec 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGerard

Thanks very much for your warm note, Gerry, it's lovely to hear from a genuine Irishman! And amen to your last line ... best wishes, Ben (NOS admin)

Dec 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterBen DeVries

I found this on line but I, too, remember this legend from when I was little and I am 63 now.
Many European countries claim it's origination.

The Animals’ Christmas Eve

In the barn on Christmas Eve, after all the people leave,

The animals in voices low, remember Christmas long ago.

One small hen, upon her nest, softly clucks to all the rest:

“Little chicks, come gather near. A wondrous story you will hear.”

The Animals’ Christmas Eve, a Little Golden Book, by Gale Wiersum and illustrated by Jim Robison.

Dec 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternancy stokes

Nancy, thanks very much for sharing this! I recently discovered this little book as well, and love its message. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas - Ben

Jan 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterBen DeVries

Super cute animals, I am a pet lover! Christmas Eve is a time of family gathering and reconciliation. It's also a night of magic: Animals are said to talk in a human voice and people have the power to tell the future. The belief was born with our ancestors who claimed that Dec. 24 was a day to mark the beginning of a new era. It was bolstered by sayings such as, "As goes Christmas Eve, goes the year." Hoping for a good 12 months, everyone was polite and generous to one another and forgave past grievances. Thanks for sharing!

Nov 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMadeline Long

Hello, Ben! Mike Morrell asked me to contact you because he really appreciates your blog and thinks you'd be an excellent candidate for his Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it's free to join. Sign up here, if you'd like:

Aug 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichard and Mike

Hi Richard, thanks for your note, and I'm sorry for the late response on my end. I do appreciate Mike, going back several years to when we first met around an old project of mine. I appreciate your invitation to consider the Speakeasy review program. I don't think I'll take you up on the offer at the moment, but again thanks for thinking of me and running this by me! - Ben

Aug 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterBen DeVries

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