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It can be easy to dismiss medieval folklore and legends, especially when they relate stories of talking animals.
However, underneath the fanciful stories lie a profound spiritual truth that we often miss.
Fr. Francis Weiser explains the beliefs of medieval Christians in his book Handbook of Christian feasts and customs. He points out that these Christmas stories were based on spiritual concepts:
The sacred character of the night from December 24 to 25 has been acknowledged from ancient times by the term “Holy Night.” Popular traditions of the Middle Ages ascribed to this night a hallowed and mysterious note of celebration and wondrous goodness.
In particular, Fr. Weiser points out that these Christians believed the entire world was touched by Jesus’ birth:
A spirit of peace and adoration was thought to prevail over the whole world, and nature was pictured as taking part in this joyful observance…The cattle in the stables fall on their knees at midnight on Christmas; so do the deer in the forest. The bees awake from sleep and hum a beautiful symphony of praise to the Divine Child; but only those can hear it who are dear to the Lord.
Not only do animals talk, but also “all tress and plants, especially on the banks of the Jordan, bow in reverence toward Bethlehem.”
Everything is charged with God’s presence and responds to the coming of the Savior.
While these folk stories may seem unscientific to our modern ears, they still retain a wealth of spiritual symbolism and open our eyes to the beauty and wonder of Christmas.