Telling tales about special holiday creatures


Published:

The northern cardinal is the official bird of seven states.

photo by Brett Pigon

Several creatures brighten the holiday season through symbolic ornaments, songs, literature or special cards. Apparently, birds are quite special. 

For example, the vibrant red northern cardinal graces holiday cards. It is the official bird of seven states. Although notorious for obsessively smashing into windows while pursuing its bright reflection, it rarely suffers injuries. Actually, it believes it is protecting its territory. 

The European robin (robin redbreast) is featured in England at holiday time. During Victoria’s reign, British postmen wore red-breasted coats and were identified as “Robins.” Subsequently, the robin bird embellished holiday cards. The trend spread to stamps, ornaments, chocolate boxes, wrapping paper, cakes and more. The American robin, named after the European robin, is remotely related.

Seven species of birds are presented in the cumulative carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It was published in England in 1780 (without music as a chant or rhyme) but thought to be of French origin. Let us meet these creatures:

A partridge in a pear tree is presumably the red-legged partridge (French partridge) since it does perch; other partridges are usually ground nesters. The unity of a pair of partridges symbolizes ultimate good.

Two turtle doves have a strong pair bond and represent devoted love. They emit distinctive mournful vocalizations. More familiar are white doves which symbolize peace.

Three French hens project faith, hope and love. 

Four calling birds were originally called colly birds, which means “black as coal.” They are European blackbirds, thrushes. In medieval times, blackbirds were placed in an already baked potpie crust and released for entertainment at a meal. 

Five golden rings are possibly five male ring-necked pheasants, formerly from Asia. A distinctive white ring adorns the neck. Males are vibrant in color, and females are overall brown. South Dakota chose this pheasant for the state bird.

Six geese a-laying eggs which are symbolic of birth, life and rebirth. Not to be forgotten is the delectable “Christmas goose” fattened in time for the holiday dinner, sometimes on a diet of of beet pulp and rolled barley. Geese have soft fat which is a delicacy — often poured on pancakes. Hopefully, these birds are never cruelly force-fed for foie gras (fatty liver). 

Seven swans a-swimming are symbolic of love and fidelity because of their monogamous relationships. Occasionally, they may cause injuries with their beaks and wings while protecting nesting areas. Swan meat was a luxury food during the reign of Elizabeth I of England; it was prepared with lard and butter. 

Let us not forget insects as tree ornaments for the yuletide. The butterfly, renown in its metamorphosis, suggests navigating a major transition in one’s life. A spider implies weaving wishes into reality. The ladybug, a beetle, is a great “live” ornament which eats aphids living in the holiday tree.

The American song “Jingle Bells” was originally published in 1857 as “One Horse Open Sleigh” and later associated with the holidays. It reminds us of the draft horse (meaning to draw or haul). On the farm, this work horse is used for chores such as plowing. Besides, it is docile and capably performs under saddle. 

The mouse, a superb research animal or pet, deserves its place in holiday literature. “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” is a line from “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” which was originally published in 1823 as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Presumably, this poem has the best-known verses written by an American. However, the author is disputed. 

And a great holiday to all! 


Haiku 
by Hailey Scalia, 9

Hi there Ladybug!
Pretty little ornament
Red like holidays