Christmas Music

Thus Every Beast by Some Good Spell

Away in a manger

Steve and Tipper  – Christmas 1970-something

I grew up hearing Pap sing the Christmas song The Friendly Beasts. He said he first heard the song from The Blue Sky Boys. The song’s origins have been traced as far back as the 12 century.

Today’s guest post about the song was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

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“The Friendly Beasts” Christmas Carol written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Nowadays, perhaps because of the ‘politically correct’ tone that has pervaded almost every public expression, including the celebration of Christmas, we do not often hear the old, familiar carols we once heard played over the sound system in shopping centers. The blare might more likely now be secular songs about “the holiday,” our current (and acceptable—so as not to offend anyone) terminology for Christmas.

But, running through my mind, from the first of December until the special day we celebrate Christmas—Advent Day, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’—I hum, sing, listen to and enjoy Christmas carols. I hesitate to list my favorite, for all are a part of my humming repertoire, and I really like many, many of them, the music, the lyrics, the thoughts they bring to my mind, and the memories of happy Christmases-past that the carol music invokes.

Lately, “The Friendly Beasts” has become my Christmas carol to hum and sing. I have heard it daily as I visit my friend Tipper Pressley’s “Bling Pig and the Acorn” blog, where she features Christmas Music by “The Blind Pig Gang.” This group is made up of her brother Paul Wilson, lead singer and guitarist [and he alternates playing other stringed instruments, too,]; her father Jerry Wilson, known as “Pap,” guitarist and harmonizing with a fine tenor voice; her twin daughters better known as Chitter and Chatter, harmonizing and also playing guitar and violin:, and, bringing in the depth of sound is Mary Jane Wilson Pressley, “Tipper” herself, on bass guitar. Their rendition of “The Friendly Beasts,” not-too-familiar a carol, has reverberated in my mind since the first day I heard it this year on “Blind Pig.” Their rendition of the carol sent me looking for its origin and history, and this is what I found:

“The Friendly Beasts” is a traditional Christmas Carol dating back to the 12th century in France. Set to the melody of the Latin folk song, “Orientis Partibus,” the song recounts the gifts brought to the Baby Jesus by a donkey, a cow, a sheep, a camel and a dove. The words were translated into English by Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920’s. By the 1930’s it was popular not only in France, where it had originated centuries before, in England and had spread to other countries. It was sometimes called “The Song of the Ass,” or “The Donkey Carol,” or “The Gift of the Animals.” Tradition holds that the idea for the song came not only from the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem from Nazareth before Jesus was born, but also one that carried Mary to Egypt when she, Joseph and the Babe went there to escape the decree of Herod that all Jewish babies two and under were to be killed. Many churches observed “Donkey Day” and would actually bring donkeys to church to remind them of the important role that animal held at the time of the birth of Jesus the Lord.

Some artists who popularized the carol in America were Burl Ives in 1952 who sang it in his album, “Christmas Day in the Morning.” Others who have included the carol in their Christmas carol recordings have been Harry Belafonte, and Johnny Cash with Belafonte in their “The Gifts They Gave.” We’ve heard the music and lyrics from Rise Stevens, Danny Taddei, Peter-Paul-and-Mary, Sufja Stevens, Garth Brooks (1992) and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Mitchell, singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, had the beasts and dove present and heard in the recording.

Perhaps you, as I, often wish you had the words of a tune that plays at your mind’s edge and begs for voice. Here are the words from Davis’s translation. There are other versions, too. I give you the words here so that you can perhaps listen and sing along if you hear “The Friendly Beasts”:

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave Him my hay to pillow His head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm:
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

“And I,” said the camel all yellow and black,
Over the desert upon my back,
I brought Him a gift in the Wise Men’s pack.”
“I,” said the camel all yellow and black.

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

“I,” was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

May your Christmas come trustingly, as it did with the animals gathered in Bethlehem’s stall. And may our gifts be laced with as much sincerity and love as that expressed by the animals in this ancient carol from the 12th century.

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Give Pap and Paul’s live version a listen as you think upon the history Ethelene uncovered about the song.

Pap and Paul’s Songs of Christmas cd is packed with some of the best Christmas music I have ever heard, including the song The Friendly Beasts. You can go here-Pap and Paul’s Music to purchase a cd directly from me. Or you can jump over to my Etsy Shop and buy one here.

I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s guest post and the video from Pap and Paul. Drop back by sometime this week for a heartwarming story about the barnyard animals at Christmas written by Celia Miles.

Tipper

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Zelma
    December 14, 2016 at 7:45 am

    I remember learning this song back in the 1960’s. It may have the Peter, Paul and Mary version, considering the time frame. I have long been a fan of ancient carols and medieval music. Thanks for posting the lyrics–I had forgotten all of them.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    December 12, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    The song is a beautiful way to remember blessings animals have brought to all of mankind through the centuries.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    December 11, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks so much Ethelene. I always enjoy your posts, and I learn from them. I am on late again, but did not want to pass up an opportunity to acknowledge this great post and the music from The Blind Pig Gang.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 11, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    I didn’t mean to put inn I meant manger! ha For there was no room at the inn! Sorry!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 11, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you Tipper,
    and Ethelene,
    I have seen this song preformed at children’s Christmas programs and school Christmas plays through the years. I think a child that plays the part of each animal and stating their purpose in the inn for the birth of the Christ child is very meaningful for small children. They just connect with the song, especially if they have some form of costume of each animal that is singing the part.
    Also this play incorporates more children to participate. All the animals, Three Magi, Angels, Sheppard’s, Joseph, Mary and Jesus. That would just about take a whole classroom of young participates. Then there is always, mixups, sweet little voices, and a Donkey standing with its head sideways or something. Parents love these programs and gives a true meaning to Christmas.
    At least I love them.
    Thanks again Tipper,
    We attended the middle school and high school bands Christmas concert this afternoon. Two and one half hours of wonderful music preformed by such talented children and talented caring band directors.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Perhaps more important than the donkey that bore Mary on that prophetic night, was the one that bore Jesus into Jerusalem 33 years later. We don’t have Easter carols so that one is not as glorified as the Christmas one. But what do we know, donkeys can live up to 50 years. Could be the same donkey for all we know, I say.

  • Reply
    Cynthia Schoonover
    December 11, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I’m familiar with this carol, but I don’t remember where I first heard it. I knew it was old, but I wasn’t sure of its origin. I am going to wear out my Songs of Christmas cd. It’s the best.

  • Reply
    Ken
    December 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Tipper,
    Thank you and Ethelene for such an inspiring story. Ethelene’s clarity and understanding shows she was once a Teacher, she’s my favorite storyteller on here. …Ken

  • Reply
    Miracle WhiteHorse
    December 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve never heard this carol. I like it and hope to adapt the tune to the Ukulele.
    Thank you for the history, too.

  • Reply
    Maxine
    December 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for making my Sunday a bit more special with this gift of story and song. It warms my heart with it’s simplicity and beauty.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 11, 2016 at 9:56 am

    I love this song and the essay by Ethelene was fascinating. Christmas is such a magical (in my classes I say “liminal” to sound more academic!) and these old songs and traditions just add to it. We need these songs and traditions to tune us into the power of the season.
    We put our tree up yesterday and listened to Songs of Christmas. Nothing better in the world than drinking hot chocolate, smelling pine sap, and listening to good mountain Christmas music.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 11, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I do not recall ever having heard this song until I heard it on Pap and Paul’s CD. We have been looking for the lyrics online and to have the lyrics, the performance and the history all tied up in bows so to speak is a real treat. Thank you each and all.
    I am thinking it would make a theme song for a Christmas play with the children.
    We go caroling today and I wish we all knew the words and were practiced up. We find each year that we are rusty and somehow Christmas carols are like Happy Birthday. We each thing we know the tune and fall into a hole starting it wrong.

  • Reply
    Patsy
    December 11, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Lovely tune. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 11, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Thank you both for the beautiful song and the story

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 11, 2016 at 7:25 am

    It’s just beautiful Tip and thank you Ethelene,

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