Oxen Kneeling

Appropriately for tonight, we’re drinking a Santa’s Secret, a sweetened black tea with pieces of candy cane. We could be liturgically snippy and say really this belongs in the December 6 box, for St Nicholas, but this is a Canadian Calendar, and Santa has long been associated here with Christmas Eve, never mind the liturgical calendar.

Besides, we’ve always loved the little human embroideries of the biblical narrative. Christ falling three times during Stations of the Cross, for the humanity and frailty it gives Him, the tabby cat who got her M-shaped marking on her forehead when Mary blessed her for keeping the Christ warm in the manger, or the cherries she plucks from that cherry tree in the carol. Did any of them happen? Impossible to say, but someone, somewhere once believed that they did, and ever since people have cleaved to them in various degrees, and have kept adding. Santa and his sleigh, the tree that craved great purpose and so became the Cross -and here’s another for you.

An old English superstition says that on Christmas Eve the oxen kneel at midnight to greet the Christ. It’s immortalised forever by Thomas Hardy in poetry, who crammed such superstitions into all his writing. We’ve shared superstition and poem before, but the old-world awe of the image of the oxen kneeling is one that never loses its beauty for us.  Perhaps we’ll find a better Christmas Eve poem in the New Year, but until we do, have the oxen kneeling.

The Oxen 

Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
photo 1
No oxen to kneel here, but all the same, a happy Christmas from all at Dawlish-uder-snow!

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