I loved my nativity set and couldn't wait until Christmas came round to take it out. I would arrange the animals, so they all had wonderful views of baby Jesus.
The Christmas story, according to the Bible presents clearly how important and omnipresent, animals were in the birth of baby Jesus. My nativity set reinforced this.
Firstly, Jesus mother, Mary and presumably adoptive father, Joseph, were humans. Humans, biologically are scientifically classified as animals. Technically we are both primates and mammals. That is, we are warm blooded and share an evolutionary lineage with that of other primates.
The next bit of the story we hear about, is that Mary travels to the city of David, Bethlehem, where she must go with her partner Joseph to be counted in the census being taken by the Romans and taxed. Mary rides there on a donkey, because she was "sore with child".
The couple arrive in Bethlehem. There is no room within the inn, so they end up taking shelter in the stable, alongside the oxen and the donkey, at very least. Mary gives birth. The shepherds and their sheep and no doubt sheep dogs, get instructed by an angel to go and pay their respects to the new baby and presumably stay on to celebrate and take shelter from "the cold winter's night". Animal accomodation, also attracts mice, rats and local bird species, especially when the weather is cold. It is likely they too were present to witness the birth. Eventually the three "wise men, or kings" , that have been following the star from the East, get to the stable, on their camels, or possibly horses, to bring gifts to the child and his parents.
Now, this is where it gets complicated. The Bible's New Testamount was initially documented by the Greeks, then translated into Latin. Some centuries later it finally it got translated into the many languages of the common people of the world. Some elements of the story may well be lost in translation. Images of the events are passed down in ways that are inevitably culturally subjective. They get changed a little , so that the culture they were being presented to coulld identify, with the information. This is where the picture of a Europen style stable comes in!
Modern, European, American and Australian single stall stables are a relatively new phenomenon. Sites that do reflect the biblical period within the East and Middle East, are more accurately represented by what I saw in Turkey. Those places were known as "caravanserais". They were square enclosures designed to keep both animals, people and their wordly goods safe.
Similarly, Roman ruins of animal accomodation, as can be seen at the Colosseum in Rome, or town of Trier in Germany, reflect that horse stalls are built within a much bigger animal space!
From the Bible it is easy to see, at least the species named, were present at the birth of Jesus.
However, since having travelled within the region where the story initially began and seeing such animal housing for myself, the animals would have been crowded into their housing, along with those in charge of them. This is all the more likely, given the city of Bethlehem was already crowded with the descendants of David. If there was "no room in the Inn", where the people would have gathered not involved with the animals, then you can bet the so called "stable" was quite caverness and crowded with many animals and their carers.
The ox and ass were a bare minimum of animals that would have been present.
Perhaps this "lowly birth" more accurately reflects just how important and equal the diversity of domestic and other animal species must be in the "eyes of God". At the birth of Jesus the animals had equal place with the "wise men", or Kings, as well as the baby himself!
To celebrate the nativity, I cannot help but celebrate the animals that were part of it and the magic of inter-species relationships, bonds and love, that have been familiar, generation upon generation. Our existences are inextricably linked, here on this small and fragile planet earth!
Indeed the warmth of the animals as they breathed, would have warmed and protected the young baby Jesus, on a cold Northern Hemisphere night in Bethlehem!
A child as significant as Jesus, cannot have been born so close to so many other species, without good reason!
Merry Christmas to you and your pets, may animals continue to bring love, warmth and companionship into your life 365 days a year!