Christmas Past: The Kneeling Oxen

nativity-paolo-schiavo-15th-century

Just a short piece today, from an 1883 edition of Notes and Queries. Here, F. C. Birkdeck Terry writes about a regional superstition that involves oxen, horses and bees honouring Christ’s birth at Christmastime; this belief was the basis for Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Oxen”.


Folk-lore of Christmas Eve (see notice of Shropshire Folk-Lore, 6th 8. Viii. 309).—It is stated at the above reference that it is believed in Nottinghamshire that “at midnight on Christmas Eve the horses and oxen fall on their knees in prayer in honour of our blessed Lord’s nativity.” This belief is not confined to Nottinghamshire. I remember many years ago hearing a great-aunt of mine narrate how, if we went out precisely at twelve o’clock and visited the place where the cattle were stabled, we should hear them fall upon their knees in adoration, whilst if we went into the garden where the bees were, we should hear them humming in honour of our Saviour’s birth. The same belief prevails in Lancashire.

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