Among the many characters in a nativity scene, you just cannot ignore the large amount of animals of any kind. The most “famous” are surely the ox and the donkey, which warmed baby Jesus with their warm breath. The former is said to have lured the Holy Family in the manger with its bellowing, and gave up eating fresh straw so that the Virgin Mary could arrange a softer bed for Jesus in the manger; the latter is said to have joined them in their long trip towards Bethlehem.
Since there are several shepherds, it is obvious to think that there were many sheeps and goats as well. The story tells that one of them offered its warm wool to the Virgin Mary so that she could knit a blanket to warm up her Baby.
Ancient stories tell that animals were active and aware participants in the Nativity, kneeling still, almost as if they were in prayer. Legends say that they could talk among themselves and that their language was understandable for human beings as well, and from their words they could deduct important information about the new year that was about to come. We often find other barnyard animals in artisanal nativities, such as horses, cows, geese, pigs, birds, often with their shepherds, or also exotic animals such as monkeys, parrots and dromedaries. Popular belief created several legends around those animals. They tell about turtle doves and robin redbreasts that cradled the agitated sleep of the baby Jesus with their sweet singing so that he could forget about the cold; there were also bees, whose buzz was said to be hiding a secret praise for the birth of the Son of God; and also the firefly, silent and invisible, that guided the shepherds to the manger and, grazed by the hand of the Baby, began shining like a little star.
Those are simple stories of devotion, but also rich and authentic, that should remind us that Christmas come for our friend animals too, and that they also deserve a bit more warmth and affection during the Holidays.