Young or old, Christmas Eve is a magical time when dreams come true, well water turns to wine, and animals talk? Never heard of animals talking on Christmas Eve? Vance Randolph’s book Ozark Magic and Folklore, introduces us to several Ozark superstitions about Christmas Eve. Vance writes:
“A great many of the old-timers call December 25 ‘New Christmas’ in order to distinguish it from ‘Old Christmas,’ which falls on January 6. They tell me that in pioneer days nearly everybody celebrated Christmas twelve days later than they do now. Old folks say that elderberry always sprouts on the eve of Old Christmas even if the ground is frozen hard, you’ll find the little green shoots under the snow. A man at Pineville, Missouri, told me that bees in a hive always buzz very loudly exactly at midnight on the eve of Old Christmas; if several bee gums are set close together, the ‘Old Christmas hum’ can be heard some distance away. This shows that January 6, not December 25, is the real Christmas.”
“Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, tells me that the old folks in her neighborhood sometimes call January 6 ‘Green Christmas’ or the ‘Twelfth Night.’ (Note: This is where the Twelve Days of Christmas originates) It is on January 5, the eve of Old Christmas that the cattle are supposed to kneel down and bellow, exactly at midnight, in honor of the birth of Jesus. Some say that the critters have the gift of speech on this night, so that they may pray aloud in English. Mrs. Spradley quotes an old woman with reference to the family water supply: ‘Our well had a charm put on it the night the cows talked, and I wouldn’t clean it out for silver!’ I don’t know what the charm is that this old woman referred to, but there are people in Arkansas today who say that the water in certain wells turns into wine at midnight on January 5.”
“It is said that on the morning of Old Christmas there are two daybreaks instead of one I have talked with men who claim to have seen this phenomenon. Boys born on Old Christmas are supposed to be very lucky in raising cattle; some say that these ‘Old Christmas children’ can actually talk the cow brute’s language.”
“There are old men in the Ozarks today who swear that they have actually seen cattle kneel down and bellow on Old Christmas eve. But skepticism sometimes prevails, even in the Ozarks. A neighbor tells me that when he was a boy he watched repeatedly to see his father’s oxen kneel but was always disappointed. His parents told him, however, that the presence of a human observer broke the spell, and that cattle must always salute the Savior in private. ‘But I just drawed a idy right thar,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘that they warn’t nothin’ to it, nohow.’”
Over the years, I have heard old-timers talk about family or friends who believed animals could talk on Christmas Eve. I do believe Christmas Eve is a magical time and I have a very fond memory of one snowy Christmas Eve when I was a teenager.
I stepped out to go hunting in the woods behind the house. We had several inches of snow fall that day and the cedars limbs were hanging low and heavy with snow. The woods are always magical and quiet right after a snow, so I sat back against a tree, pulled up my collar as the urge to hunt drifted away from my mind.
I stayed late in the woods that night, just enjoying the stillness of it all. There was a full moon and in between the shadows of the oaks, I saw a doe with a late season fawn making their way through the deep snow. The woods are almost surreal at night, covered in snow, and as I sat there, I noticed the doe would walk ahead and wait for the fawn. The fawn was moving slowly, it’s head down, it looked tired. But, the doe was patient and when the fawn did catch up, the doe would stop and scrape a spot in the snow with her hoof. The fawn would then walk up and eat the dried grass or acorns underneath. Of course there was no way for me to know if she was teaching the fawn, or if the fawn was sick, but I watched this unusual and loving behavior for probably an hour.
I didn’t hear the animals talk that Christmas Eve, but, I did see a mother’s love. I saw something more that just instinct between that mother and her fawn.