The Friendly Beasts

The Bible doesn’t mention the animals that were in the manger on that first Christmas Eve.  But surely they were there, silent witnesses to the miracle.  What would they say if they could talk?

“The Friendly Beasts” is a song about the gifts the animals gave to the baby Jesus.  The melody comes from a Latin song first sung in 12th Century France to give thanks for the donkey that carried the Holy Family into Egypt.  The current English words were written by Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920s.  Since then it’s been recorded by artists as varied as Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Garth Brooks.

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

This simple song has always been a favorite of mine.  When my children were young, our family spent 6 months on a remote volunteer site in Guatemala.  Missing music, I bought a cheap guitar in the local market and taught myself a few simple chords.  This song is one I sang to my children at Christmas (I sing to kids and cats, no one else).

I try to remember animals at Christmastime.  My daughter, who died in an accident in 1985, loved animals.  Every Christmas I remember her with a gift to Best Friends, a wonderful no-kill animal sanctuary in Southern Utah.  My sister and I, who need nothing, give each other charitable gifts.  For her, I donate to Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock to needy families in many parts of the world.

Do you include animals in your Christmas celebration?  Tell us how.

Here’s a link to a cute version of the song:

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24 thoughts on “The Friendly Beasts”

  1. My dog Schatzie is involved with Christmas. She is 6 years old and we tell her the Santa Beagle is coming for Christmas. We taught her when she was a puppy how to open presents with her teeth and paws. She opens presents with excitement just like a little kid. The only thing is she has fur. Merry Christmas Everyone!

  2. What a wonderful way to remember someone special,,my Mom Passed away this summer an im gonna take your ideal for her,,she too loved animals,,Merry Christmas

  3. Elizabeth,

    “The Friendly Beasts” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It’s so tender how each animal gives their best. And it always brings back wonderful memories of Christmas Eves on my grandparents’ farm (so animals where always a big part of Christmas there).

    This is the second place someone has mentioned Heifer International. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of this organization before, but I’ll be looking into it.

    Merry Christmas,

  4. Good (yawn) morning, Ladies. Sorry, I seem to have overslept but it’s great to wake up to your messages. Tended my little granddaughter last night and she wore me out.

    Your doggy sounds adorable, Cheryl E. I can just imagine her opening her little presents.

    Celebrating my daughter’s life with a gift to animals always makes me happy, Cheryl. Wonderful that you plan to do something similar for your Mom.

    I love the song for the same reasons you do, Vickie. Thanks for putting it into words. You can google Heifer International. They really do some great things.

    Glad you’re aware of Heifer International, Cate S. My sister and I saw their work first hand in Tanzania with a dairy co-op run by women. Such happy faces.

  5. Hi, Elizabeth. I love how this song reminds us that no gift is too small when given out of love. And that everyone, no matter how lowly, has something of value to give – even the freindly beasts. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Hi Elizabeth. I’d never heard this song before but loved it as soon as I listened to it. And I too donate to Heifer International as gifts for some of my loved one – they are a great organization.

  7. It surprises me that you haven’t heard this before, Cheryl and Winnie. But I’m delighted to be the one to introduce it to you. It’s a wonderful song for children to hear and sing.

    Karen, again, your words express why I love this little song so much.

    Glad you, too, donate to Heifer, Winnie. They do much good in the world by giving people the means to improve their lives.

  8. I can’t say I have heard this song before that I can remember but I loved it. Not sure why I have never heard it. My son has donated to Heifer before and he still gets things from them all the time. Its a good thing.

  9. I’m surprised at how many people are hearing this song for the first time, Quilt Lady and Sherri. My third grade class did it as a choral reading way back when. Sometime later I heard it sung.

    LOL, Mary. You have this way of smacking us back to earth. Love it.

  10. Egads, I’m sixty-six and I never heard that song before, and I listen to Christmas music non-stop from the time it starts till they replace it with regular programming. Thank you for sharing it. I think what you do in memory of your daughter is awesome. Happy Holidays to you.

  11. I love the Garth Brooks version. My other favorite on the same albumn is The Gift. Makes me tear up every time I hear it. All my pets have been strays or ferals and there’s always something for them under the tree. One of my cats gets a collection of hair ties – she loves them lol. Oh and my grandkitties and granddoggie get gifts too lol.

  12. Love what you do for your pets, Colleen. My kitties could care less as long as they get their Fancy Feast. But I did wrap a package of treats for my son’s aging golden lab.

    Glad you remember this song, Vicki. Ginger, I’m pleased to introduce it to you. Have a warm and happy holiday.

  13. I should get that Garth Brooks album, Catslady. I would love it. How delightful that you remember all your pets. They’re lucky to have found a home with such a caring person. I found my two cats in a shelter–I was grieving over the loss of Powderpuff, my little soulmate of 23 years. They actually rescued me, I think.

  14. Elizabeth,
    Thanks for the history of thiss song. It is cute and one our children enjoyed. The childre’s choirs in this area always include it in their Christmas programs.
    Since we have so many creatures, we have gifts for them too. The cats really don’t care, so we gave up on them a long time ago. The dogs are another story. We always get treats for them and new chew toys are a must. The pit bull, at 3, is still a puppy. I don’t thibnk she will ever grow up. We have yet to find something for her to chew that will last more than a few days agt most. One of the heavy duty rubber chews lasted 25 minutes.
    Our peacocks will get lots of chopped green veggies.
    The snake will probably sleep through it all.

    We usually give a gift to Second Harvest. I know they need funds, but this year we decided to give extra to the local animal shelter. They are overrun with animals because so many people are in financial trouble and can’t afford to keep them. We normally help out the shelter throughout the year, but extra is always needed.

    Have a Wonderful Christmas and a great & productive 2012.

  15. I always buy my dog a special treat for Christmas and we have his photo taken in a Santa hat at Petco.
    Merry Christmas to our “paw” friends

  16. The celebration at your house must e something to see, Patricia. What a collection of animals. It’s awesome that you’re helping the animal shelter, so needed.

    Wish I could see the photo of your dog, Joy. Hope he doesn’t mind the Santa hat–bet he looks adorable.

  17. I have always loved this song. The Nativity picture is wonderful. My kids always had their own that they could play with.

    My neice and her husband met on e-harmony. Among manyn many things they had in common was that they both collect nativities. Last time I asked they had 50 between them!

    Merry Christmas to you all.

  18. Good morning, Connie. Thanks for your visit. Nativity sets can be beautiful. The one in the photo is from Fisher-Price, for children to play with. I got the image from Amazon, so it can be ordered for anyone who’s interested.
    Wishing you a warm and merry Christmas.

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