By the Book: Gotta love those Christmas animals

Christmas is knocking at the door again. The excitement never seems to go away, maybe not as intense as when I was 7 or 10 or even 13, but the feelings are still in me. I hope they’re still within you as well. 

I was searching around for a theme and decided on nature: the birds and beasts that pop up in song and story at this time of year. Like that partridge in the pear tree, or the red-nosed Rudolph. The three great writings about Christmas — “The Gift of the Magi,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” contain a sum total of zero as far as animals are concerned. No cat, no dog, nary a canary … not even a mouse.

These days, a huge variety of wildlife is brought to our attention. Deer are everywhere, rein or shine (pun intended). Santa’s eight (or is it 10?) are inescapable if you’re reasonably conscious between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, but today’s challenge is to name them all (or maybe it’s six?), right now, inside of two minutes. You’re on your own; no fair seeking help from any children. And if we’re talking reindeer, we mustn’t forget the nameless one that Grandma got run over by. (I refuse to say, “by which Grandma was run over.”)

A wide assortment of birds enters into the holiday cheer — that omnipresent partridge, for instance. (I actually think “A partridge in a eucalyptus tree” has more style.) We have the five swans a-swimming, the three French hens, the six geese a-laying, the two turtle doves, plus those four anonymous calling birds — tweet tweet, cluck cluck, honk honk, ad infinitum (a bit of Latin for spirituality). I remember seeing a full-color movie short in which every one of the 12 gifts entered the singer’s small home. Things began to get out of hand when the eight milkmaids and the cows they were a-milking clumped in.

The frenetic ending of “A Christmas Story,” the best Christmas movie ever made (apologies to Jimmy Stewart), featured the frenzied dogs bursting into the kitchen, knocking over the table and devouring the Christmas roast. This, of course, sent the family to the Chinese restaurant for their Christmas feast. Fa la la la la, la la la la!

Any respectable Nativity scene would feature a donkey, a couple of cows, several sheep and three camels, all gathered around the child in the crib. The ground is always deep in snow and I’ve always wondered how many times in the last 2015 years it’s actually snowed in Bethlehem in mid-December.

And finally, we celebrate those harmonizing chipmunks: Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Each time I hear them begin to sing I groan, but before you know it I’m grinning like an idiot, waiting through the loop-de-loops … waiting through the hula hoops … waiting for the hardly-a-surprise-anymore “ALVIN!!” It’s like some sort of fix I need to get me through those crazy, exhilarating, jingle-bell weeks.

And, as always, whatever name your December holiday goes by, have a happy/blessed/feliz/nzuri/humbug one. And wouldn’t a bit of Peace on Earth be a much-welcomed gift?

TR050808_book_Case_R.jpgMr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected].