Mary sure did have some problems living in that barn. When baby Jesus was born, Joseph needed a crib, so he put some fresh hay in Ms. Horse’s feeding trough. Nobody asked Ms. Horse if they could use her food basket—her manger—for a crib. Once her manger was filled with straw nobody said Ms. Horse wasn’t supposed to eat it! Fact was, just about every time Ms. Horse noticed no one was looking, she would pull some hay out from under baby Jesus for a snack.
Ms. Horse loved to eat hay, especially fresh hay. Well, before long, baby Jesus would be laying on the hard boards of the manger and wake up cranky and yowling, like any little baby. Mary would say, “Now Ms. Horse, stop eating that hay! You’re upsetting the baby.” Mary would then fetch some more hay for a mattress and baby Jesus would go back to sleep. As soon as everybody had their backs turned, Ms. Horse would sneak over and snack on some more hay and the whole problem would start again.
Baby Jesus would wake up wailing. Mary would lecture Ms. Horse, and Ms. Horse would lower her head and look real remorseful, you know, real sad. As soon as no one was looking, Ms. Horse crept over and nibbled on the hay until baby Jesus was laying on those hard boards. Well, it didn’t take long, Mary got a little bit nettled, you know, kind of mad like, just like the rest of us.
Mary said, “Ms. Horse, from now on, you and all your kith and kin and all your children’s children will never get enough to eat. You will have to eat all the time.”
Have you ever seen a horse out in the field? They are eating all the time. If you ever own a horse you will understand. When you own a horse you are feeding them all the time.
Ms. Mule also was naughty in the barn. First, Ms. Horse was eating up the hay mattress and waking up baby Jesus. Next, every time baby Jesus fell asleep, Ms. Mule would go “Hee haw! Hee haw!”
Let me tell you, you have never heard a baby cry, until you hear one cry after a mule goes “Hee haw, hee haw.” Oh my, how Mary would speak to Ms. Mule. I was told that almost every time the barn would get quiet, Ms. Mule would start in, “Hee haw, hee haw!” She’d wake up baby Jesus from his nap and he’d start in crying. Ms. Mule was so loud, even the grown ups would jump.
Mary got so aggravated, she said, “Ms. Mule, you are not fit to be a parent! From now on, you and all your kith and kin will never become parents!” Do you know, to this day, no mule has never had a baby.
Now Ms. Cow, she was different. Ms. Cow was something else. Yep, she sure was. Ms. Cow was a big help to Mary in that barn.
For example, Ms. Cow would stand with her back next to the manger and wave her tail back and forth over baby Jesus, to keep the flies off him. There were lots of flies in that old barn. Ms. Cow gave fresh milk, to both Mary and Joseph, and to some of the other visitors to the barn.
She and Jack, the Donkey, would take turns babysitting whenever Mary and Joseph had to run an errand. Ms. Cow also told Jack what a lot of the things were called he was seeing for the first time, since the miracle of the “First Christmas Gift” when Jack got his sight. They were the best of friends.
Later, when Mary was packing up to go down to Egypt, she said, “Ms. Cow, you have been such a helpmate to me and baby Jesus, I want to thank you. From now on, you and all your kith and kin and your children’s children, whenever you finish eating your lunch on a warm summer day, you can go lay down in the shade of a tree and continue to enjoy your lunch with a chew of grass.”
The next time you see cows out in a pasture after lunch laying in the shade, you will see them chewing away like they had a big wad of chewing gum. The farmers say the cows are chewing their cud.
Yep, that’s why horses always eat, mules don’t ever get to be parents, and cows get to chew their cud after dinner.
The Old Christmas Stories
Chuck Larkin (1932-2003) was a nationally known folk storyteller who lived in Atlanta, GA. A “tall tales anecdotist” and a scholar of Celtic lore, he also conducted Master Storytelling Workshops. Larkin was a charter member of the Southern Order of Storytellers, and often attended the National Storytelling Festival held in Jonesborough, TN.