The Christmas Ox
Janice Mitich often tells a good story to introduce a poem, as she does with this one
Over 25 years ago, I read the the legend about the Christmas ox, (which was an excerpt from a longer story) and it so touched me that I never forgot it. It was in a collection of Christmas stories, legends, songs, poems, etc that was published in the early 50's and is probably out of print now. I use to read it to my classes (something now forbidden by law as being too religious!)
I still remember the gist of the story and how the oxen refused to eat because he thought the fodder too holy. In the story all the creatures of the earth came and paid homage, lions, tigers, the beasts of the ocean sent their representatives, and even the insects and germs came. The ox was afraid that he would kill these unseen creatures by eating in the pasture. The poem tells the result. Feliz Navidad
© 2001, Janice E. Mitich
All guardians of cattle know the special job they do
Be they farmers or cowboys. Cows are more than revenue.
Some are great milkers, others good at raisin' calves,
And those that tear down fences, ya wish ya never had.
Some become pets after kids raised them for the fair
And ya have to buy 'em back to stop their tears and despair.
There's pleasure in the sight of fat cows grazin' on yer land
Or a line headin' in to water at a windmill or dirt dam.
Some cowboys tell a legend of a cow of long ago
Whose sacrifice for a babe set the world aglow.
When oxen pulled carts and plowed the fields of man
In a time so long ago in the land of Abraham.
"All people must be counted." Cesar Augustus did decree.
Joseph, of the house of David, went up from Galilee
With his young wife, Mary, heavy with divine child.
But there was no room in Bethlehem, in inn, or domicile,
Just a stable, on the hillside, filled with beasts and birds.
The gentle sound of cooing doves was all that could be heard.
A grateful Joseph made a bed on the ground from straw and hay
Then spread his cloak upon the mound, a place where she could lay.
Mary gently laid her first-born son in the cattle manger.
Her joy was tinged with sad knowledge of His coming danger.
Miracles began to happen. The animals could talk that night
As they bowed before the Holy Child wrapped in swaddling white.
The birds offered up their music, the sheep their warm, white fleece,
And for the couple's meal, fresh eggs laid by hens and geese.
The ass did not know that soon this new family must flee
And she'd forever bear a cross marked from shoulders to her knees.
The humble ox was fearful that his huge size and massive horns
Would terrify or even injure the precious, tiny newborn.
After all were asleep, beside the manger he'd carefully kneel
And warm the baby with his breath by the cold revealed.
As strangers came to adore Him, the ox would paw the earth
To warn all he would guard Him until they proved their worth.
Each night he paid homage with just seraphim there to see.
Each day he grew thinner as he felt he could not eat
The fodder in the stable that had become the Baby's bed.
While the other beasts ate their fill, he warmed the Babe instead,
Enraptured as the stable shimmered with the glory of God's light,
By a great star in the east shining through the day and night.
Joseph could not tempt him. The ox ignored sweet Mary's pleas.
He'd grown too weak to follow when the family had to flee.
The ox's deeds were not unheeded as angels spoke to God above,
Who was touched by such devotion, sacrifice, and selfless love.
As the ox breathed his last, God placed new stars across the sky.
Taurus, the bull, sprang to Heaven with Aldeberon his ruby eye.
Down through the centuries, 'cross the lands, this legend has been told
From cow to calf, beast to beast, to children by the old.
Cowboys ridin' night herd can see a miracle on Christmas Eve
As cattle bed down in a perfect circle. But first cowboys must believe
The cows' breath, rising in the cold, are prayers of their abiding love
And a tribute to the ox's sacrifice for the Son of God above.
You can read more of Lariat
Laureate Runner up Janice Mitich's poetry
right here at the BAR-D.
The wind so cold, an' blowing hard,
makes travelin' down this trail,
to whar I have a need to go,
so rough thet I may fail.
But pushin' on is all I've got,
to git whar I must be,
because you know, its Chris'mus Eve,
an' thar's someone I must see.
A little child lies in its sleep,
close by His mother's breast,
an' though it's gruesome goin' on,
I'm movin' with the rest.
The other two, besides myself,
have come a right far ways,
to see this child who's jest been born,
(in the town ahead), they say.
They call us wise; mayhaps we is,
but whut is thar to know,
but faith in God an' peace on earth,
Oh! See thet star aglow!
It's pointin' to a place ahead;
a hut is whut it seems,
an' shepherds is a'kneeling thar
beneath its golden beams.
A veil of starlight come to earth,
brought down from up above,
an' now I'm hearin' angels sing
a song of perfect love.
We've reached the place we're lookin' fer;
the trail's come to an end,
fer now, at last, we've found our goal
in the town of Bethlehem
Bunkhouse Christmas Eve
Long 'bout dark, after grub was et,
whilst most of us weren't a'sleepin' yet,
we got to jabberin' like we use'ly do
in the bunkhouse thar, although a few
of the hands was gone into town,
whilst the rest of us jest set around
an' talked of nothin' but this 'n thet,
or 'bout the weather, or gals we'd met.
When of a sudden thar come a noise
up on the roof, an' some of the boys,
who's skeered of shadders, much less of snakes,
went to rollin' their eyes; even got the shakes!
It don't take much to skeer some pokes,
'cause they ain't a'tall like other folks.
But anyways, we all run out
to try an' see what 'twas all about.
The snow had fell near all day through
an' 'though 'twarn't heavy it would do
to leave some tracks, an' they was thar,
close by the stovepipe; oh, it whar quar!
They looked like deer prints; dainty ones,
an' there was streaks whar a sleigh had run.
Least thet's what ol' John Morgan said,
(but then, he's daft inside his haid).
Anyhow, we wondered aloud
whut in thunder had caused thet row,
'cause thar warn't a thing up thar but tracks,
an' nothin else, an' thet's a fact!
After while, after gettin' chilled,
we went back in an' got right thrilled!
I don't know how, nor do I kyar,
but I swear ol' Nick had been in thar!
Over by whar Pete's bunk set
was a brand new razor, all wrapped up yet!
An' close to whar JimBob snored,
by his bed, (down on a board),
a Barlow knife was stuck in tight,
an' then jest to make it right,
a pair of socks layed on the bunk
of Beady Epstone, ('though he is a skunk)!
Then I got to lookin' 'round
fer whutever else might be found,
an' then's when I seen layin' thar
beside my ol' beat up git'ar
a shiny pick of mother o' pearl,
prettier'n almost ary girl!
On the piller fer Greasy's dome
a dollar watch perched all alone,
an' even ticked to show it worked,
'though Henry Forbes (a foolish jerk),
went to snitch it, (but got caught),
an' made to leave it like he ought.
Even them whut was in to town
had been remembered, all around,
fer on their bunks was calendars
with purty gals (in underwar).
An' then we heard thet noise ag'in
but went too late to see anythin.'
Still, in the dark I know we heard
laughin' an' the faintest words
of "Ho, Ho, Ho, Goodnight to you,
Merry Christmas" an' away they flew!
You can read more of Lariat
Laureate Runner up McCloud's poetry
right here at the BAR-D.
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