The Legend of the Crittergators in the Manger
I dedicate this Christmas tale to my niece and nephews. . . .
Gather closely, children, and listen to the tale I'm going to tell. I'll tell it as my grandmother told it to me, and as her grandmother told her, and her grandmother before her. It is the story of the crittergators in the manger.
Now, you are all familiar with the beloved Christmas story of Jesus of Nazareth, and how he was born in a manger; and how the creatures gathered around him to warm and comfort him. But I'll bet you've never heard the story of some of the lesser-known visitors on that day.
Perhaps you've read the Bible verse about the shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, and how the angels came to tell them about the newborn babe. "And they were sore afraid," the Bible says. Not only were the shepherds afraid, but the sheep were too. They quivered and shook; they ran about in fear.
But the angel said to the shepherds, "Fear not, for behold, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."
And at the same time - and we're not really sure where they came from - some small, green creatures showed up on the scene and began to comfort the sheep. And the sheep calmed down immediately. They stopped quaking and shaking and running about. Their cries of fear turned into a chorus of soft baas. Like good sheep, they followed the shepherds one by one, all in an orderly row. The little green creatures walked among the sheep and even rode on them, gently holding onto their soft fleece and encouraging them along.
And so the angels directed the shepherds to the manger, where the Christ child lay. And the sheep meekly followed those shepherds. When they got there, all was quiet, except for the sounds of a child, who was fussing a little. Mary comforted the child, and by her side Joseph stood, talking with the Magi (the famed "wise men" who brought the child gifts).
The Magi looked up in surprise to see the sheep and their unlikely green riders. They talked quietly among themselves: what could the creatures be? Even wise men such as themselves were not really sure.
The manger was cold and so the animals moved closer to comfort the child and keep him warm. The child smiled and laughed to see the small green creatures riding on the sheep! Mary did not know what they were, but she could sense the peace and goodwill emanating from the gentle small ones. The little creatures might even have sung sweet songs to the child: in a tiny, four-party harmony, a hymn of adoration. And as the Bible says, Mary held all these things in her heart and she pondered them.
And so the crittergators, dear children, were among the first to adore the Christ child. They brought joy to that first Christmas night, and comfort not only to the sheep (who in turn comforted and warmed the child) but to the dear babe and to Mary herself.
And Mary in her gratitude put a blessing on the crittergators, and she said to them, "From this day forth, whoever sees you shall smile and laugh, and you will be a blessing unto them."
And so it was, dear children. So it was.
Editor's note, part the first: a technical note on this photograph. Of course there were no digital cameras present at the manger, so this photograph represents a reenactment of the events of long ago. No, the details may not be technically perfectly accurate. For instance, while I believe the crittergators were present at the manger scene, to introduce red ladybugs is entirely a fiction on my part; but they do liven up the scene, and their red color paired with the green of the crittergators makes for a more festive Christmas photo. You may note that in this photo, Joseph (standing to the left of Mary) and the two wise men to his left appear to be quite startled by the dark green crittergator riding a sheep. In fact, they might be saying, "Holy cow! Who let that big green mouse in here?" (The wise man on the right appears more interested in the red ladybug.) And so while this photograph is not entirely historically accurate, it represents one version of what might have been . . .
Editor's note, part the second: regarding the terminology of the tale. This story was passed down in oral tradition through many generations, as Christ was born many centuries ago. The language of the day didn't really have a word or phrase to describe what the little green creatures were. In fact, there was some element of mystery as to exactly what they were. Surely the original version of the story came down to us in Aramaic or in Greek, so the translation may not be exact. In the story as it was told to me, a Latin phrase was used: parva viridi creaturis pacis, which means "small green creatures of peace." In some versions they were known as parva viridi creaturas consoletur oves, which is to say "small green creatures who comfort the sheep." Some versions of the tale even refer to the creatures (which we, in our time, believe to have been crittergators) as mures, or mice, although they were not really mice, though perhaps they resembled them!
Editor's note, part the third: regarding the veracity of this tale. Now, the serious Bible scholars among my readers may not believe that there were crittergators present at the manger because nowhere in the Gospels does it explicitly say so. But may I suggest to you that those who wrote the Gospels were very busy gents, who didn't have spare time to write down every single detail, such as to inventory each and every creature which may have showed up at the manger to adore the child.
And so, should you ask me the question of whether this story is true, my answer to you, dear reader, is this: Why not?