The Christmas Eve myth of talking animals

I had no idea about the European superstition of animals talking in human voices at midnight on Christmas Eve (so 00:00 on Christmas Day).

The legend—most common in parts of Europe—has been applied to farm animals and household pets alike. It operates on the belief that Jesus’s birth occurred at exactly midnight on Christmas Day, leading to various supernatural occurrences. Many speculate that the myth has pagan roots or may have morphed from the belief that the ox and donkey in the Nativity stable bowed down when Jesus was born. In any case, the story has since taken on a life of its own, with different versions ranging from sweet to scary.

According to The Christmas Troll and Other Yuletide Stories by Clement A. Miles, variations of the legend can be surprisingly sinister for holiday lore


Another tale, this time hailing from the German Alps, features animals foretelling their caretakers’ death. On Christmas Eve, a young farm servant hides in the stables hoping to witness the animals’ speech, where he overhears an alarming conversation between two horses:

“We shall have hard work to do this day week,” said one horse.
“Yes, the farmer’s servant is heavy,” replies another horse.
“And the way to the churchyard is long and steep,” says the first.

The servant dies a few days later, leaving those horses to do some heavy lifting.

In these stories, occult knowledge is bad, and research beyond normal bounds creates not only unwelcome knowledge of misfortune, but also misfortune itself.

via Mental Floss

The fact this coincides with the idea that you MUST be asleep on Christmas Eve evening or Santa won’t deliver your presents makes me wonder if St Nick is in on it…

(via Language Log)

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