Kindness can reach places money can’t
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.