Christmas

Animals Talking on Christmas Eve

Mary and Babe

Earlier this week when we were talking about the folklore of animals kneeling and speaking on Christmas Eve I was reminded of a wonderful guest post written by Celia Miles. I think you’ll enjoy it.

And the Animals Knelt by Celia Miles

My grandmother had me on her lap and she smelled of fried chicken and freshly ironed apron. She held me because my mama just told me Daddy wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas after all. He was in Manila or somewhere that made me think of vanilla when Mama’s soft voice said it.

“Look at that pout,” Grandma said, “and you such a pretty child when you smile.” I chewed on my pigtail. “I don’t want to smile. I may never smile again.” “Now that’s a big maybe. You best be careful of what you say tonight. Santa Claus might hear you–and it’s about time for him to hitch his reindeer up and set out.”

“Tommy said no old Santa’s gonna find us back here in the mountains, anyway.” Grandma smoothed my hair with her rough hand. “I bet that Tommy will change his tune about midnight, specially if he hears little hooves a-pattering on the roof.” “He was awfully sure,” I said. “I miss my Daddy.” Daddy called me his brave little tomboy. Grandma wasn’t one for much talking. She shifted a little to get more comfortable. I always gave up Grandma’s lap when little Gordie came toddling along. “After all,” Mama said, “he’s the baby, and he’s never even seen his daddy yet. You’re our big girl now.” “And old MaryBelle is sick,” I said, piling on the misery. Daddy gone to war, Mama crying, little Gordie just too cute and cuddly, Santa likely to get lost, and now our cow, our only cow, had come down sick. “I think Christmas stinks!” “Young lady, get off that pity pot of yours,” Grandma said, her voice stern. “You go wash up the dishes for your mama and I’ll tell you what we’ll do at midnight.” “What?” I jumped off her lap in my excitement. “What will we do? I don’t ever get to stay up till midnight. I never have. Will Mama let me?” “Your mama’s tired. She’s in there crying right now because my Billy won’t be home like he hoped and the army promised. We’ll keep it our secret. Go on, now. Get those dishes done.”

Grandma was rocking gently in front of the fireplace when I came back from the kitchen. I’d made so much noise Mama said from the bedroom, “Rachel Jean, if you wake this baby you’re going to have to tend to him.” I pulled two cushions from the sofa–one to sit on and the other I held in my arms. It was silky and had fringe and a painting on it of white sand and palm trees. It was from that vanilla place where Daddy was soldiering. I sat down in front of the fire, careful not to block the heat from Grandma. “My granddaddy told us this story,” she began, “and I reckon it came over on the ships from England with his momma and poppa. Listen, child,” and she cupped her hand to her ear. I listened intently. I heard Mama scribbling on a piece of paper, writing Daddy again. Grandma leaned toward the window. The wind was blowing a strong snow, and the sashes crackled. I leaned toward the drafty window too and listened as hard as I could. A dog barked, old MaryBelle was lowing in the barn, her bell jangling a little, and Oscar the mule snorted. I thought I even heard the sow and her pigs eating at the trough. But I’d never heard all those sounds before…with the wind howling and the barn way off from the house. “Granddaddy said on Christmas eve, the animals all stay awake till the dot of midnight,” she whispered. “They’re waiting to honor the Christ child. He was born in a manger, you know, like in the barn, born among strangers, not even a bed.” Grandma’s voice was so mournful I looked at her, expecting almost to see tears. But Grandma was tough. She never cried, and sometimes she got put out with Mama who cried a lot. “The Sunday school teacher told us about little baby Jesus,” I said, “and the preacher talked about his birthday.” I thought a moment. “But they didn’t say a word about animals, ‘cept Joseph and Mary had a donkey.” Grandma had a faraway look in her eyes. “All the animals, they say, wait up for that blessed moment. Some people even say that right then they even talk to each other.” She shook her head. “I don’t know about that.” She smiled and a little smile crept out to my lips. “Can you imagine what Oscar and MaryBelle would talk about? I bet your Daddy’s fiesty fine mare wouldn’t even speak to the rest of them, fancy as she is!” Daddy had courted Mama on his shiny brown mare, Juliet, his pride and joy. Mama groomed her every week so when Daddy came home he wouldn’t be ashamed of his horse. I giggled a little but thinking of Juliet made me think of Daddy, and I hung my head again. “You don’t believe that, do you, Grandma? Animals talking?” “Christmas is a magic time, Rachel Jean, anything can happen. But,” she admitted, “talking animals? More’n likely the other story’s true.” She paused so long I jiggled her shoe. “What, Grandma, what?

“All the animals in the world–with any sense, that is–kneel down at midnight to pay homage to the baby child Jesus. Yes, they do. Now that I can believe.” “Oh, Grandma, have you ever seen them do that, have you?” I had a vision of camels and elephants in far off places, and polar bears and black bears, and giraffes and billy goats all going down on their knees. It couldn’t be. “I admit, child, I’ve never stayed up to see,” Grandma said. “With so much work to be done, I’m always asleep.” “We’ll see tonight, Grandma, we’ll stay up. Oh, I don’t care if Tommy is right about Santa Claus. I don’t think he’ll get here tonight. Look, now it’s snowing even harder.” “I’ve always wanted to see the animals on Christmas Eve,” Grandma said, “but I never did. We’ll go out there, no matter how cold.” She bent over and stirred the fire. “Let’s get some rest, child, first.”

I tried and tried to rest but I was afraid I’d miss midnight. Truly I wasn’t so sure about Santa Claus because I knew the army was bigger than Santa. I’d written and asked him to bring Daddy home, and then Mama got his letter and had been crying ever since. I woke up Grandma who was snoring loud enough to keep any reindeer off the roof. She rubbed some sparkle into her sleepy eyes, and we put on our heavy coats and boots. The snow was wet and almost up to my knees as we waded toward the log barn. I carried a flashlight and Grandma carried a lantern. The sky was dark and the ground white. At the barn we wrestled with the heavy bar across the door. Grandma was wheezing. We got the door slightly open and I peeped in, Grandma right behind me. Juliet, MaryBelle and Oscar all had their own stalls and I didn’t see a head in any of them like I could in the daytime. It was awfully quiet. “Look,” Grandma sounded excited, like a little girl. “They’re bound to be kneeling. Not a head in sight, and you know horses sleep standing up.” “They’re kneeling to the baby,” I whispered. “It’s right on the dot of midnight.” Far away I heard a church bell or I thought I did. “It’s Christmas, all right,” Grandma said. “Let’s get back to the fire before we catch our deaths of cold.” In the light of the lantern, I could see a glow on Grandma’s face. I wouldn’t swear on a stack of bibles our animals had been kneeling, but I’d never tell Grandma that.

When we opened the door and kicked off our snowy boots, Mama was up. She’d made hot cocoa for us. The steaming cups smelled like Christmas. She hugged me. “Look what Santa left for you…while you were out there in the cold.” She handed me a long box, all wrapped up in red and green paper. It looked just like a box a doll would come in. I didn’t want any sissy doll with icy blue eyes. I was my daddy’s tomboy. I was careful, hardly tearing the paper at all. I took the lid off. It was a soldier boy doll. It had a khaki uniform on, even a cap with a stripe. His hair was as black as his painted boots. He was the handsomest soldier ever–just like my daddy. When I lifted him from the box and set him on the floor he was half as tall as I was. His buttons gleamed. “He’s all the way from Daddy’s army camp,” Mama said softly. “Your daddy sent him to you across the ocean all that way.” “My own soldier boy doll.” It was a miracle. Like my daddy was with us. Santa had found us. The animals had knelt. It was Christmas.

—Written by Celia Miles. Originally published in the anthology “Christmas Presence: from 45 Western North Carolina Women Writers,” edited by Celia Miles and Nancy Dilllingham.


Last night’s video: Mountain Path 17.

Tipper

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    December 12, 2021 at 10:34 am

    I am all choked up. This is one of the best posts. I love this story. Its good when you are captured right in the beginning. Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Celia
    December 12, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Hey and thank all of you for your positive comments about my Christmas story. One person asked where I lived/where the story was set. I lived in Jackson County, beyond Dillsboro until I was twelve.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    December 12, 2021 at 9:47 am

    This was absolutely wonderful! I am sitting in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate and that was just such a perfect thing to read.
    Thank you so much for posting the story.

  • Reply
    BC
    December 12, 2021 at 7:19 am

    Beautiful story by a very gifted writer! I, too, felt as though I was right there in the story. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply
    Christine
    December 11, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    That is a beautiful story! I enjoyed it so much, it brought both tears and smiles as I read it.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply
    Tommy
    December 11, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    I don’t keep all your articles, just don’t have storage space. But this one is definitely a keeper. We can’t imagine what families went through during that time. We should thank God every day for those brave men who left family & home and suffered for us. “Only two forces will die for you – the American fighting man and Jesus. The first for your freedom, the second for your soul.”

  • Reply
    Robert
    December 11, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    A beautiful story written extremely well.

    Thank you for bringing it to us, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Pat
    December 11, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    Beautiful story! I felt like I was there. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    December 11, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    This well-written story really tugged at my heart strings and brought much Christmas joy.

  • Reply
    Martin
    December 11, 2021 at 11:40 am

    This is utterly fasinating. I grew up in a Polish-American family (my father was born in Gdańsk, Poland) and stories about animals talking on Christmas Eve was just something that I grew up with. I have never encountered these kind of stories outside of a Polish context. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Barbara Parker
      December 11, 2021 at 5:03 pm

      Martin, I too am Polish American and I love the stories about the animals talking on Christmas Eve. All things are possible with God.

  • Reply
    Sandra henderson
    December 11, 2021 at 10:32 am

    That was a beautiful story, and so well written! I felt as if I were there… so descriptive with the small details. It made me hang onto each sentence.
    Do you know what area Celia was living during this growing up time? I mean, I know it’s around these parts, but more specifically. I was just curious. I envision her in smoky mtn park area, but that’s just my mind wondering.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    I loved Corie’s video today, decorating their tree. All her ornaments and decorations were so pretty.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      December 11, 2021 at 10:49 am

      Sandra-I believe she lived near Morganton NC at one time, but I’m not certain where this story took place 🙂

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    December 11, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Beautiful story. The birth of our Savior is so simple. God loved us enough to send His only son! It is so hard in this day and time to have a simple life, but we keep trying. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    Annie Buck
    December 11, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Such a wonderful and lovely story for this cold Advent morning. Thank you.

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    December 11, 2021 at 9:27 am

    Loved this story, thanks Tipper for sharing.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    December 11, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Lovely story, iy broughy tears to my eyes

  • Reply
    Jeanie
    December 11, 2021 at 9:13 am

    That was magical! I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  • Reply
    Lori Hughes
    December 11, 2021 at 9:12 am

    What a beautiful story.

  • Reply
    Rita gilbert
    December 11, 2021 at 8:17 am

    I loved that story thanks so much Rita

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 11, 2021 at 8:16 am

    Loved it! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 11, 2021 at 7:55 am

    Well, about the animals talking, the bible has the mysterious statement about the whole creation groaning in travail until now. We don’t understand that but it seems to say the “whole creation” has some kind of voice. The animals talk to each other of their own kind and who knows just what they say.

    By the way, I went to the Newfound Gap webcam page yesterday morning looking to see if there was any hoarfrost. There was not, just dense fog with black tree shapes. But just in front of the camera perched a bird, I think a crow. It fit right in with everything else.

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    December 11, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Sweet story. Thanks

  • Reply
    Margie G
    December 11, 2021 at 7:42 am

    I thought that was a wonderful story! I enjoyed every bit of it! I hope everybody is preparing their hearts for Christmas and this story surely touches the heart. I wish you all warmth, memories, good people and good food! I think as long as I’m saved, that’s the best Christmas gift I could ever have!!! Thank you, Jesus, for all you do for me!!!

  • Reply
    Mr.Leslie Lucas
    December 11, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Animals talking on Christmas Eve is a beautiful story, made me stop and think of this this old world today. Times were hard and money was short back then but the true meaning of Christmas was real and the love and concern for your family and friends was real. We need more of this today.

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    December 11, 2021 at 6:32 am

    Beautiful story, I enjoyed it so much ♥ Thank you again

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