Christmas is a great time of the year for our families and particularly for our children. I remember as a ten year old boy, the year seemed to last forever before Christmas arrived. The lead up to Christmas went excruciatingly slow. Psychologists acknowledge that time does go quicker as you age. For me, the big marker of the year was Christmas, not New Year’s Day. Everything revolved around Christmas.
John Lennon captured this thought in his famous Christmas song called Happy Christmas. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and new one just begun.” Celine Dion’s version gives it a more modern feel.
Yes, it was the presents. What child doesn’t like presents. Yes, it was the multiplicity of presents. It seemed like everyone got something and most got a few and the colourful decorations are always attractive for a child.
I remember when our children were very young, my wife and I went out into the backyard for a few brief moments. We came back to find our Christmas tree pulled down and stripped bare and many of the beautiful baubles on the living room floor. It is very hard to explain to a baby just starting to walk that pretty baubles are not edible objects and should be handled with care.
When I was ten years old I lived with my eight year old brother and my dad. Mum lived elsewhere. We lived in a rented home on a 20 acre farm in North Richmond on the outskirts of Sydney. Life was full and exciting. If we weren’t rabbit trapping, we were quail hunting. If we weren’t quail hunting we were swimming ‘au naturale’ in the Redbank Creek or building cubby houses out of ironbark by the creek. We went to school barefooted. Many of our friends did the same. We were happy going to school in bare feet, but Dad felt bad about that and kept us home from school until he could afford to buy us shoes. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were happy.
For some reason, even though we were quite poor, Christmas lifted us out of our sense of not having it all, and instead being thankful for what we did have. Scientific studies show that this is the best way to be happy.
Maybe it was the uniquely Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight where thousands gather outdoors to sing Christmas carols. This tradition began in the late 1800’s when Cornish miners sang Christmas carols with candles stuck to their mining hard hats. This tradition has certainly multiplied the sense of the ‘Christmas spirit’ in the broader community. Danish scientists in a tongue in cheek scientific experiment claimed to have discovered where the Christmas spirit is in your brain.
I remember my Dad talking to the next door neighbour who had cows and other farm animals about the effect of Christmas on his animals. This farmer said, “It’s as if my animals know about Christmas. Their demeanour changes and they become more peaceful and contented.”
Maybe that was the case. We only had chickens and ducks on our farm. Quite possibly chickens and ducks had other things to think about. Maybe they were concerned that they might not make Christmas alive and end up on the table instead. However I really do believe that there is such a thing as the ‘spirit of Christmas’ and I am sure that some animals get it more than humans.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds while they were watching their flocks and told them the good news of the birth of Jesus, the sheep would have seen all those angels as well. The angel told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem where they would find Jesus wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger or feeding trough. In bible days it would have been common for all the animals to be in the manger as it was winter in Palestine. In many cases the manger was the lower floor of the house and the animals kept the house warm at night.
So not only were the cows and other farm animals witness to the birth of Jesus in the manger, but the shepherds brought their sheep to the manger to pay their respects to the new born king. It is likely that Jesus had a lot of sheep there that night as the bible says that all the shepherds went to see the babe lying in the manger (and everyone knows that it was not safe to leave sheep unguarded in bible times due to the proliferation of lions & bears, wolves etc). On top of that were the wise men with their camels after their long distance trek across the desert – all these animals, eating out of the same trough in which Jesus was placed.
Yes, I believe there is such a thing as the ‘spirit of Christmas’ and I believe our neighbouring farmer was right. Animals are sometimes more aware of spiritual things than humans, Balaam’s donkey being a classic example. The animals played a key role in the events surround the birth of Jesus Christ, either as a silent witness to the fact, or in transporting those who came to worship the author of the ‘spirit of Christmas’ – Jesus Christ.
Make sure you enjoy Christmas with your children and your extended family. God is no stranger to joy. The angel told the shepherds concerning the birth of Jesus, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.”
So be joyful with you children this Christmas. The Father wouldn’t want it any other way. Make sure you tell your children the important part the animals played in the birth of Jesus. This will excite them, because they often understand these things better than you or I. That’s why they love animals so much.