What Are You Doing for the Holidays?

by Barbara Walvoord

“Mid ox and ass,” sings Mary to the baby Jesus in one Christian hymn, “Sleep, sleep thou little one.”

I don’t know how animals figure in the Jewish or Muslim winter holidays, but I would expect that animals do figure in those stories, as animals figured in the lives of the people who originally lived the stories.

In the Christmas story, animals have kind of a hard time. The ox and ass watch the baby Jesus fall asleep in THEIR manger, and the sheep are abandoned to their own devices while THEIR shepherds run off to Bethlehem. No “happy happy holiday” for them. Winter in the Holy Land is warmer than here, but in our neck of the woods, not only Christmas, but winter weather, can be tough for animals.

So I thought we might ask our Lathrop animals, as we ask each other, “What are you doing for the holiday?”

A bear mom gives birth to cubs every other year, so if it’s the year of birth, she stays in her den, hibernating and gestating. The cubs will be having milk. The mom has no dinner and loses up to 1/3 of her body weight. If it’s an off year for babies, the female, like the males and yearling cubs, may emerge from hibernation periodically during mild weather. If our bear is out on Christmas day, there won’t be much to eat, but our bear will search for berries, nuts, carrion, your bird food, your pet food, or even your pet.

Our bobcat mom is kicking last year’s kits out of her territory (no “I’ll be home for Christmas” nonsense for these kids). Once she has her privacy back, she’ll be looking to hook up with some male that’s moving through–not necessarily the same male as last year. On Christmas, she’ll have to stalk and spring to catch her dinner of rabbit or vole.

Our white-tailed deer will wander through our forests and meadows, especially at dawn and dusk. The tender summer grasses are long gone, so they will gnaw on woody plants. They will eat fast, raising their heads and ears constantly to watch for predators. That gulped meal goes into one of four stomachs. Later, lying in a safer place, our deer will regurgitate, chew, and swallow again.

Our frogs are buried in the mud, in a torpor, with chemicals in their blood that protect them against dying from frost. No Christmas dinner for them.

Every religion’s winter holidays bring hope for kindness, peace, and good will to all creatures on earth. So we humans at Lathrop nourish, in this cold season, our land’s wild places and the creatures who depend on our lands for survival–creatures who call this place home, and who strive, as we do, for peace and plenty.

The land committee’s 20 members work well together, enjoy our land, and enthusiastically seek new members, whatever their physical capabilities–there’s lots of interesting work to do. Contact me at walvoord@nd.edu.

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