“I am going down to the barn,” Anne said, as she often does at night when she goes to clean the stalls and spread fresh straw for the horses. Except that this was Christmas Eve, and she added, “You know, the animals talk at midnight.” It is an old loved story from her childhood which at some level I am certain she believes.
I was immediately touched by the thought of the horses– the warmth of their large gentle bodies, shifting quietly as she moves among them, nuzzling for carrots and filling the stalls with their sweet grain-fed breath. It was almost too much to imagine that they might speak of the Christ Child too.
And I thought of the way Thomas Hardy spoke in “The Oxen” of the devoted, protecting animals ponderously kneeling around the child, filling their humble places in the world, as in a dream from childhood.
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 lay 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.
I tried to recite the poem for Anne as she stepped away, but the words caught in my throat. So I simply said, “Maybe the animals will talk to you.” And I hoped it might be so.