“Animals speak but only those who know how to listen” Here is a quote from a quote by Orhan Pamuk, Turkish author and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. In his 1998 novel Mera Naam Surkh Hai, Pamuk was referring to dogs that talk to certain humans. Over time people borrowed the novelist’s line and generalized it to include all animals.
History of a legend: To connect talking animals with Christmas, there is a legend that animals talk at midnight on December 24th. Some believe the legend predates Christmas, and goes back to the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture, held during the winter solstice.
Pope Julius I chose December 25, 336 AD as the date when Christmas was first celebrated in an attempt to absorb the traditions of Saturnalia. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the Christian holy day did not reach England until the late sixth century. Many of the customs we now associate with Christmas, such as wreaths, candles, feasting and even gift-giving (which began with the Romans giving each other terracotta figurines), began with the Saturnalia. So vocal animals can also be carriers.
The belief that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve has European roots and persists in Scandinavian, Lithuanian and other folklore. The reasons for the animals “seeking Geb’s gift” are briefly linked to the birth of Jesus in the manger at 12 o’clock, in some versions, the donkey brags that he brought Mary and Joseph safely to the manger so that the miracle could take place. Other stories say that bulls (or cows) kneel to honor and praise the Holy Nativity, while some stories say that angels comfort the manger creatures by the proximity of their bodies and their warm breath. A reward was given to stop shivering. Therefore, the heavenly thanksgiving continues today in which animals around the world speak to Eve for a short time, but only to those who listen.
Far from being “dumb animals”: Throughout history, livestock animals have been denigrated as “dumb beasts,” whose sole function was to provide humans with food, labor, and/or transportation. Perhaps, removing emotion and intelligence from certain species like pigs and cows helps us rationalize why we can eat them without guilt.
We studied the minds and emotions of primates, wild animals, and our pets. Until recently, we thought of cattle as dumb and unworthy of scientific scrutiny. Currently, the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Dammersdorf, Germany has become one of the world’s leading centers for research into cattle minds, as reported in a 12/8/23 article. science, Title “What Are Farm Animals Thinking?” By David Grimm.
Recent research has found evidence of a wide range of brain power, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence in many types of barnyard animals. In FBN, dairy cows have learned to hold their urine as it passes through the internal passageway. The pigs choose whether they want to use the treadmill and the goats stare and tap the researchers for help when their test seems too difficult. Since it’s almost Christmas Eve and we’re getting closer to the magical moments of midnight, let’s focus on what scientists now know about the mammals that commonly appear in mangers.
Donkeys: Misconceptions about donkey intelligence are part of our language, and the name “donkey” is often used as an insult. In fact, donkeys have a strong sense of memory and self-preservation, so much so that they will avoid people who have mistreated them. They can be quite affectionate if they are in a nurturing relationship. Donkeys bond easily with their own kind, and when no other donkeys are present they bond with horses, mules, or small livestock. A 2013 study by the Donkey Sanctuary found that donkeys can learn and solve problems as well as dogs and dolphins.
cow: Cows are sensitive creatures with different personalities, exhibiting varying amounts of boldness, shyness, and sociability. They feel hurt and pain. Cows display complex spatial memory and are able to distinguish up to 100 individual cows in their herd. They comfort each other, reducing the other cow’s stress by staying close. Cows experience grief. There have also been incidents where a helpless daughter has stood next to her dead mother in a cow field. Cows love their people and love to cuddle. Cows can solve problems—better than most dogs. They can easily figure out how to open doors with their tongue.
crowd: Sheep are not passive, woolly clones who follow the crowd as they are often portrayed. They can learn tasks quickly, often after only two trials. They have a wide range of peripheral vision, can distinguish blue-yellow-green colors, and learn to choose containers by color. They know that covering food doesn’t mean it’s gone. They are highly social and are able to take pictures of other sheep with a calm expression. Crowds experience fear, anger, frustration, boredom, and happiness. Sheep smile. Males form a hierarchy, while females are equal in the herd. Even lambs have been known to show empathy. When twin lambs’ tails dip, they look “sympathetically” at their own and their sibling’s pegs.
Goat: Baaa, goats are intelligent, social animals. They “read” each other’s emotions with their voices, starting when they were just “babies” searching for their mother through separate letters. Mothers have a special calling to keep their children close. Studies show that goats, like dogs, can distinguish human facial expressions and prefer interacting with happy-looking people. When we point to something, the goats understand what it means. Pointing gets away with some chimps.
Farm goats are staring at humans when they are dealing with a difficult problem. It points to a form of communication seen in other domesticated animals, and suggests that some wild animals have adapted almost human social skills on their way to becoming dependent on us. The findings came after an experiment at FBN where goats were fed food dishes with removable lids and then more with non-removable lids. They maintained eye contact with the human tester and tapped the tester with a hoof when ignored. “Help me, I’m hungry,” was what the desperate goat was trying to say.
Communicating with animals: Investigating cognitive and emotional development in animals, including cattle, will help us understand how our minds evolved, lead to better environments for farm animals, and hopefully improve our behavior toward other sentient beings. Will give birth to humility and open mind. Yes, the animals will talk about how amazing they are at midnight on Christmas Eve.