Friday, December 19, 2008

The Break of Dawn, Christmas Eve

One of the Christmas myths that caught my fancy when I was very young was the legend of the talking animals.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals in the barn would wake and speak. They would tell one another the story of the birth of Baby Jesus.
The donkey would say that because of his ancestor, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not in the countryside.

The dog would say that his ancestor to protected them, keeping harm from Mary and Joseph.

The dove would say that her ancestor cooed the little baby to sleep.

The cow would say her ancestor offered milk to the wee child. And so on and so forth.

It was my fondest wish to hear this.

My parents did not spend Christmas Eve at home, generally, so neither of course did us children, my brother and I.

We went to the Webbs, a family who lives at the foot of Caldwell Mountain not far from where I grew up. These folks have been friends of my father’s for longer than I am old, and on Christmas Eve their house was full of loved ones.

The adults would pick guitars and sing carols while the young ones shrieked and chased each other up and down the stairs.

We were often joined by my aunt and uncle, who went with us for the singing, music and fun. My aunt, who is from Salem, tells me she has missed only one Christmas “in the country,” since 1970.

I remember a fireplace crackling merrily, the smell of chocolate chip cookies and the odoriferous wafting of the smell of cedar from the hand-hewn tree, fresh off the farm. There was lots of camaraderie and lots of noise.

Back at my house, I had a dog that I expected to speak at the appropriate hour, so my anxiety tended to grow as the evening wore on. Would we be home in time for me to hear the Christmas magic?

Generally speaking I think we were home by 11 p.m.

I, of course, was sent to bed almost immediately because Santa Claus was on his way and he would not stop for a little girl who did not go to bed.

Year after year I fell asleep before midnight. And finally, when I was almost too old to believe in myths anymore, I had the bright idea of taking the dog to bed with me and staying up to hear what he had to say.

I remember staring intently at Major, the white poodle, in the moonlight.

Waiting. And waiting.

The next thing I knew, my brother was shaking me. “Santa came! Get up!” he whispered.

And in the excitement of toys and presents around the tree, I forgot what I had been waiting for.

I remembered later in the day. I went to my mother with my complaint. “I don’t think the animals really talk,” I said, noting that there went another childhood fantasy out the window.

My mother hugged me. “Of course they do,” she said, pulling my hair from my face. “You fell asleep is all.”

I shook my head. “No Mama. I watched Major and he never said a thing.”

“Then you must have blinked.”

Surprised, I asked what she meant.

“Do you know exactly when night falls?” she said. “Or when the sun comes up and it is daylight? Can you catch those moments?”

I shook my head.

“If you miss the exact moment when it is midnight, that very second, then you can’t see the magic work,” she said.

“It’s just like catching the break of dawn.”


  1. All you have to do is believe. And set up a tape recorder.

  2. What a wonderful story!! It's all about faith, isn't it?

  3. I really enjoyed this post :)

    LOL, "set up the tape recorder" :D

  4. Wise words from your mother. I have always wanted to catch the animals speaking, too. Always blinked.

  5. One of my cats can say, "Owwwt" and another can say "NooooOOO."

    Does that count?

  6. You should read the book by Max Lucado called The Crippled Lamb! It's a Christmas story about this very subject - a real tear jerker too.


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