Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

Thought for the day - Tuesday 22nd December

22 Dec 2020, 11 a.m.

The birds of the air and the beasts of the field! (part2)

Some of you may have been lucky enough to have spent some time in Scotland and got as far as Aviemore. On the road from Aviemore to the Cairngorm car park you will pass a quite unique farm. It is here that they have the only herd of reindeer in the UK. They were re-introduced into Scotland in 1952 by Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren

It may seem a rather far-fetched idea to re-introduce reindeer but the species is native to the UK, as Mr Utsi found that “according to the Orkneyinga saga, red deer and reindeer were hunted together in Caithness by the Earls of Orkney about eight centuries ago.”

Although the last record of wild British reindeer is from around 800 years ago and there has been much climate change since this, the unique sub-arctic qualities of the Cairngorms provide a perfect home for reindeer – in fact this is the only place left in the UK able to support such an animal.

The owners of the farm in normal times hire out reindeer at Christmas and they go to many parts of the UK to provide a seasonal feel at major shopping malls and garden centres.

I used to travel a lot to Scotland and went on many guided bird-watching tours. One of the guides was a local man Jonny Pott who was a treasure trove of information about the traditions of the area as well as being a first class naturalist. He told me once that he had been, for several years, the herder of the reindeer on the slopes of the Cairngorm. Jonny could certainly run like a deer! I read with dismay this year that Jonny had passed away and many, many people who had been out with him on these trips wrote in to say how sad they were to hear of the death of a fine Scottish Highland gentleman. This thought I can only echo myself – rest in peace Jonny.

In our Christmas time we always think of Father Christmas (or St Nicholas) and his team of reindeer hurtling through the air and delivering the presents all-round the globe.

St. Nicholas was an early Christian and his reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus ("Saint Nick") through Sinterklaas.

As pagans converted to Christianity during the Middle Ages, winter festivals and traditions, as well as popular pagan beliefs, often mingled with Christian celebrations of Christmas. In Norse and Germanic mythology, Thor is the God of Thunder and soars through the sky in a chariot pulled by two magical goats. Thor was highly revered and was arguably the most popular of Norse gods in ancient times. Images and stories of Thor soaring the skies in his sleigh pulled by two large, horned goats may have influenced the creation of Santa's sleigh and flying, antlered reindeer by those in the west familiar with Dutch or Germanic mythology.

The names of the eight reindeer were first documented in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 Poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (also known as "The Night before Christmas" from its first line).

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'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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What more can I say - God bless you all and have a very Happy Christmas.

Don Peacock