Christmas Eve, 2008. As the falling snow finally eases to a few drifting flakes, the noises of the everyday world are buffered by the eiderdown of white draped across the landscape. I trek out to the barn to check on the animals one last time this Christmas Eve, dogs by my side. The snow is well over their heads now, but the kindly neighbour has once again plowed out the drive so we can move with some freedom if we stay on the path. But of course, as dogs are wont to do, the three larger ones - Charley, Sadie, and my granddog Becky, bound off into the deepest parts and surface with frosty, happy faces.
I step into the dark interior of the barn. The snow reflects through the many windows, casting a soft light over the old wood. The piggies are nestled deep in the straw and blankets; they raise their snouties as I peer over the stall gate to see all are warm and safe. I breathe in the scent of straw and shavings and piggy smells, loving the feel of the barn and the silence of the night and the magic that is Christmas. As I tuck one more blanket over Scotch and feed the pigsters a flake or two of hay, I softly sing Silent Night to them, recalling childhood memories of midnight services and the magic of that favourite hymn, always sung just as the hands of time heralded in another Christmas Day.
I whisper goodnight to the piggies, close up the barn, and make my way around to Martin's stable. He is bedded down on his straw, well protected from the weather. In the dark of night, with only my small flashlight to provide a warm glow, I see before me an image of a long-ago nativity scene: Martin, so like his camel kin who carried the three wise men to Bethlehem; the manger filled with soft hay, such as provided a crib for the child born this special night; and the snow sparkling like the brilliant star that shone that night. I hear Martin softly acknowledge my presence with his low uhn-uhn-uhn, and smile as I think of how those sounds would have filled the stable that first Chrsitmas.
I am not a religious person, and I identify with no single religion (though I am a spiritual person) but I do celebrate Christmas as a time of great joy and an honouring of an historical figure who lived his life in a way that respected the dignity of all. And so, this moment with the animals on this cold snowy Christmas Eve is magical, a spiritual moment, a moment in which the world is at peace at least in my soul.
My dogs at my side, I head back to the house, back to the modern world. Within me I carry a sense of calm and reverance and awe, the Christmas spirit, found where Christmas first began - outdoors, in crude and humble surroundings, surrounded by animals on a dark silent night.
I believe there is a reason why the animals figures so prominently in the Christmas story - the unconditional love, the sense of purpose, the courage to go on, the faith in tomorrow - the lessons that the person called Jesus taught in his lifetime -are modeled for us best by the animals around us. It is from living with and working with those animals that I am growing into the sort of person I was meant to be.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I am forever thankful for your friendship, your support, your words of encouragement, your laughter. I thank you for sharing my joys and my sorrows, my frustrations and my celebrations. My critters and I wish you and yours the very, very best of the holiday season.
Jean, Charley, Sadie, Belle, Oliver, Martin, Allie, Scotch, Soda, Derby, Whisper, Rickey, RobRoy, Swizzle, Spritzer, Lizzie, Fizz, Tom, and Toddy.