The little red-breasted, cheerful robins, often called also the Christmas robins, indicate the season of sun and spring. This rather ordinary bird holds such tremendous importance to Christmas that probably everybody know its legend.
Robins are known in fact for having shared the holy stable of Bethlehem, with Jesus’ family, when the other animals chose not to respond to Mary’s constant appeals.
Now these colorful birds are regarded as the traditional symbol of UK and can often be found on greeting cards and gift wrappers. They also use robin decorations to trim their Christmas trees and their Christmas cakes or chocolate logs.
According to the legend, that Christmas night was extremely cold and a cold breeze blew constantly into the stable where Mother Mary lay with her infant, Baby Jesus. The fire in the stable, the only source of heat for the baby, was about to go off and all that Mary could do was call the surrounding animals for help. She asked the sleeping ox, but he lay sound asleep on the stable floor and did not hear her. Next, Mary asked the lazy donkey to breathe life back into the fire, but he did not hear Mary either. Nor did the horse or sheep.
Suddenly, Mary heard the flapping sound of wings. A robin had heard her cry for help and had flown to the stable to help her out. His wings were like little bellows, huffing and puffing air onto the embers, until they glowed bright red again. He continued to fan the fire, singing all the while, until the ashes began to kindle. With his beak, the robin picked up some fresh, dry sticks and tossed them into the fire. As he did, a flame suddenly burst forth and burned the little bird’s breast a bright red. But the robin simply continued to fan the fire until it crackled brightly and warmed the entire stable, while Baby Jesus slept happily.
Mother Mary heartily thanked the robin for his efforts and tenderly looked at his breast that was now red with the burns and blessing him for his deed of valor and selflessness.
And to this day, the robin’s red breast covers his humble heart.
Here is a poem that tells the same tale, know simply as “The Legend of the Christmas Robin”:
“Legend tells how a robin,
On the night of the first Nel
Braved the frosty winter night
So the baby might sleep well.
Throughout the night, the small grey wings
Did flutter for all their worth
And fanned the fire that warmed the Christ
His first night here on Earth.
In the heat of stirring the lonely fire
The shepherds have it said
The Robin wears with honor
A breast of Christmas Red.”
According to the British Trust for Ornithology, robins became a Christmas symbol because they looked like letter carriers…(or letter carriers looked like them). The birds had been called redbreasts for hundreds of years before British postmen started wearing red coats in the mid-1800s and earned the same nickname. A robin first appeared on a Christmas card in the 1860s and, ironically, the bird was depicted carrying an envelope.
However, there may have been a Christmas connection much longer than this in different parts of the world. Northern Europeans, for istance, looked for the robin at Christmas because it stayed through the winter, and in Southern Germany the custom is to put grain on a roof for the redbreasts, who come trustfully about houses at that season.
As the Christmas bird par excellence it seems appropriate to record the robin which managed to imbibe too much of the Christmas spirit. Apparently, some seventy years ago a robin, having eaten its share of the plum pudding and brandy sauce, fell off the chair back on which it was resting. Left in a safe place to sleep off the effects, it never touched another drop!
In any case, although popular with all, British children in particular love this cheerful and quite tame little bird. For them, a Christmas robin is the first sign of the holiday season, with the promise of good things to come…