When I was a child, my grandmother told me that at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals talk. My grandmother's parents were both from Aberdeen, Scotland, but she was born in Massachusetts. So I have no idea if this came directly from her Scottish heritage--but I do know now that this is a fairly widespread folk belief in America and Western Europe. Trying to track the source is complicated. Christians legend has it that animals talk then because when Christ was born the animals in the manger spoke words of adoration and sang hymns to him. (Even bees, apparently!) Other sources assert that this is a pre-Christian belief along the lines of the myriad Christmas Eve fortune-telling superstitions that have arisen in many cultures.
Be that as it may, Christmas Eve is a magical time for a child, and I always believed what my grandmother told me. She and my grandfather raised sheep and chickens, and I wondered what it would be like to visit the sheep shed at midnight. Knowing them, they would probably all start grumbling about how they wished we fed them more, or how they wished they hadn't been bred this year because next spring it would mean twin lambs butting their teats and hopping all over their backs. And the chickens nestled safely in their little hay-lined cubbies, what would they have to say? Would they suddenly start gossiping like the bunch of cackling biddies they were?
Rosanne Griffeth, a goat farmer living near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, related this Christmas Eve tale about her goat Nod in a 2005 blog
"This midnight as the clock heralded in the wee hours of Christmas Day, I went out onto the porch to check on Nod. I think the part of me who was still eight years old was half-hoping to hear her say something.
'Blah. Blah-blah.' She said, looking up at me with her topaz colored goat eyes and snorting.
I understood perfectly.
'Screw you! Give me some damn corn, you bitch!'
I scratched her under the chin and told her she was a good girl. Because it's important to tell homely creatures they are beautiful, and naughty creatures that they are good.
Fairy tales in which humans hear animals talking on Christmas Eve don't usually bode well for the hearer, who often learns of his or her imminent demise. Perhaps this solsticial magic isn't meant for our ears, but is supposed to remain in the realm of the unexplained and supernatural--something to spark the delight inherent in the holiday season, but not to be pondered too deeply. Even so, when I wake up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, I inevitably turn to the cat sharing my pillow and ask her if she feels like saying anything. And true to her nature, she twitches her tail in annoyance at my disturbing her sleep and remains silent. Probably just as well. She has quite the temper.
Christmas Eve magic--
will animals speak tonight?
We crave connection.