The Story of Christmas: Meet the Animals

These lowly witnesses played a vital role

When we set up a Nativity scene, we often surround the Holy Family with animals. The scriptures that describe the birth of Jesus, though, don’t actually speak of animals or a stable.

The scriptures speak of a manger. A manger is a trough made from wood or stone that holds animals’ food. In Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, houses had two floors. The people lived on the second floor, while the animals lived on the first. This floor was usually dug out—a little like a basement. Having the animals underneath helped to keep the house warm for the people above.

So, although the scriptures don’t explicitly say so, we can assume that animals were there at the Nativity. There were probably goats and sheep, and maybe oxen and donkeys. Likely, the animals would have been moved into the courtyard and fresh hay laid down when Mary and Joseph entered the space, so that Mary could give birth in the customary privacy.

I wonder what the animals thought about all the upheaval. Maybe they quietly watched the miracle of this story unfold. Like many of the “lowly” people involved in the good news story, these witnesses also had a vital role to play. Ask yourself:

  • When do we overlook people and make judgments about their significance?
  • Have you ever felt insignificant at first, and then later lifted up and recognized for who you are and what you contribute?
  • How does it feel when you aren’t?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

—Bethe Cameron from O’Leary West Cape Pastoral Charge, PEI