Kind­ness can reach places money can’t

Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS - ANN FITZGER­ALD

THERE has long been a vi­brant as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween farm an­i­mals and Christ­mas.

A few years back, the Pope stated there is no men­tion of an­i­mals be­ing present at Je­sus’s birth in the gospels but said that ref­er­ences to the ass and the ox in other parts of the Bible may have in­spired early Chris­tians to in­clude them in their na­tiv­ity scenes.

Sheep are also al­most al­ways in­cluded in th­ese scenes. This may be be­cause the birth of Je­sus is re­ported to have been re­vealed to shep­herds by an­gels. Or it could be be­cause they are white and woolly, thus feel-good cute and cud­dly.

I re­cently came across a ref­er­ence to a leg­end that’s pop­u­lar in Europe of how an­i­mals, both farm and do­mes­tic, were sud­denly able to speak at the stroke of mid­night on Christ­mas Eve — the pre­cise time at which Christ was re­port­edly born, leading to var­i­ous su­per­nat­u­ral oc­cur­rences.

This line, in turn, may have arisen from the fact that the don­key and cow ap­par­ently went down on their knees in a show of re­spect at Je­sus’s birth.

My hus­band Robin said he never heard this leg­end ei­ther, but sug­gested that one of the rea­sons be­hind it might have been to get the men home from the pub be­fore mid­night.

This might ex­plain why a lot of th­ese sto­ries fore­tell of doom. The hearer of th­ese voices of­ten ends up dead.

St Fran­cis of As­sisi, who had a spe­cial de­vo­tion to baby Je­sus, is cred­ited with cre­at­ing the first na­tiv­ity scene, which in­cluded a don­key and a cow, on Christ­mas Eve, 1223.

Prior to that, peo­ple pri­mar­ily cel­e­brated Christ­mas by going to mass. As this was in Latin, which ordinary peo­ple wouldn’t have understood, it’s not hard to be­lieve they re­ally took to th­ese na­tiv­ity scenes.

St Fran­cis is also the pa­tron saint of an­i­mals and said we should not for­get an­i­mals on Christ­mas, that they should be given rest and good food.

Next Mon­day morn­ing, farm­ers up and down the coun­try will give their stock an ex­tra bit of feed and linger over them for a mo­ment be­fore head­ing off to cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion — many, not all, with loved ones.

Thus, I was alarmed to see a Tea­gasc sur­vey of farm­ers in the west and north-west which found that 85pc of them are short of fod­der. There is also a se­ri­ous short­age of bed­ding.

Farm­ers see their role in life as be­ing able to pro­duce food for those who don’t them­selves pro­duce food. In or­der for a live­stock farmer to pro­duce that food, they have to be able to feed and look af­ter their stock. When they are un­able to do this, it can be per­son­ally dev­as­tat­ing.

This is in no way to take from the needs of other peo­ple in this coun­try and abroad. A hu­man need is al­ways greater than an an­i­mal’s, but that does not ob­vi­ate the lat­ter.

So I have a real con­cern for the well-be­ing of those who are liv­ing the re­al­ity of a fod­der short­age right now. I hope that politi­cians will do their part to help, as I have no doubt that friends and neigh­bours will do what­ever they can.

The prime im­por­tance of re­li­gion in Christ­mas has largely been sup­planted by com­mer­cial­ism, as we eat, drink and are merry, wear­ing our Jimmy Choo shoes and bear­ing Her­mes hand­bags.

But the fun­da­men­tal mes­sage of good­will re­mains.

Kind­ness can reach places that money can’t, while those whose need is ob­vi­ous are not nec­es­sar­ily those whose need is great­est.

One of my own favourite Christ­mas tra­di­tions is to visit friends and neigh­bours around where I grew up. Of­ten th­ese are older peo­ple and I only see them once a year. In­vari­ably, I will be chas­tised for leav­ing it so long. But I know they are glad to see me and they know I call when I can.

I wish ev­ery­one con­tent­ment this fes­tive sea­son and through­out the com­ing year.

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