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When You Shouldn’t Eavesdrop on Animals

December 12, 2013


'So, who's booking the stable for Christmas Eve?'

‘So, who’s booking the stable for Christmas Eve?’

I rang a friend today to enquire about his dog. The dog has a bad cough, and she’s an old dog. Having been reassured that the dog would last a while longer, I signed off my call with words to the effect of:  ‘it’s important that she’s in good voice for Christmas Eve.’

There was a silence on the other end of the line. 

‘For Christmas Eve’, I repeated. ‘You know, when all the animals can speak. Did you never hear that before?’


There was a good chance he thought I was mad. On the other hand, the fact that he’s from Texas might mean he hadn’t heard of this old story. I thought it a world-wide tradition. I explained myself, and the questionable state of my sanity was cleared up – at least until the next time I bombard him with weird Irish-isms.

But, it started me thinking. (A dangerous thing, indeed). Where did this belief come from? Well thanks, Google, for nothing. The story appears in various versions around Europe, and in the Americas too.

Time to consult Mr Danaher. Regular visitors to the blog will be familiar with nuggets gleaned from his book, The Year in Ireland:

” At midnight on Christmas Eve, according to a belief held in most parts of Ireland, the cows and donkeys kneel in adoration of the Christ Child, and at that moment, too, they have the gift of human speech. Nobody, however, should spy upon their devotions, much less speak to them at that sacred moment.”  

Danaher goes on to say that stables might be decorated with seasonal foliage, and that children sometimes tied sprigs of holly to cows’ horns.

As children, my brothers, sister and I loved the idea of our animals speaking. Once, our menagerie comprised of three cats, a rabbit, and a dog. On Christmas Eve I lay awake; imagining what they might say to each other.

Even now, I stand in front of animals on Christmas Eve and instruct them to say nice things to each other. Yes. Probably a true sign of madness, but – as my mother says about Hello magazine – harmless. Then again, although I’m no Dr Dolittle, animals listen to me in a very serious manner. It makes me think it’s all ‘going in’!

Come Christmas Eve, I won’t eavesdrop on CAT – or any of the felines and canines of my aquaintance. And neither should you, because

A. You might hear something unpleasant about yourself.


B. You might get your illusions spoiled.

And who in their right mind wants spoiled illusions for Christmas?

The Year in Ireland. 1994 ed. Mercier Press

The Year in Ireland. 1994 ed. Mercier Press

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