Christmas Animals: Animals Associated With Christmas From All Around The World

Christmas animals – a list of animals associated with Christmas, with pictures and facts.

Animals play a central part in Christmas celebrations in many parts of the world. On this page we take a look at animals associated with Christmas. We’ll discover what part they play in Yuletide celebrations, and also find out about the animals themselves…


Reindeer

Reindeer

  • Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Reindeer are large deer found in cold northerly regions in the northern hemisphere. Although they’re the same species, reindeer found in North America are known as ‘caribou’.

Reindeer (or caribou) in Canada make the longest migration of any (non-flying) land animal. In a single year they can travel as far as 5,000 km (3,000 mi).

Reindeer have become closely associated with Christmas since the early nineteenth century. In the traditional festive legend, Santa Claus’s sleigh is pulled by a team of nine reindeer: Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donner, Prancer, Vixen, and Rudolph, the ‘red-nosed reindeer’.

  • You can find out more about reindeer / caribou on this page: Reindeer Facts

Donkey

Donkey
Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash
  • Scientific name: Equus africanus asinus
  • Conservation status: Domestic

The donkey is a member of the horse family Equidae. A donkey is the domesticated subspecies of the African wild ass, a species found in deserts and other dry regions in East Africa.

Donkeys were first domesticated around 3,000 years ago, and continue to be used as pack animals in many parts of the world today.

Donkeys are one of the animals most strongly associated with Christmas; Mary rode a donkey as she traveled to Bethlehem.


Polar Bear

Polar Bear

  • Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The polar bear is a member of the bear family Ursidae. It is mainly found within the Arctic Circle, and has a number of adaptations for living in this cold, inhospitable region.

The white fur of the polar bear provides camouflage against the snow and ice. Underneath this cozy fur coat is a thick layer of fat, which prevents heat from escaping.

The polar bear’s huge feet help it to walk over the snow without sinking, and also help it to swim.

The polar bear isn’t a traditional Christmas animal, but because it is associated with snow (and therefore winter) it often appears on Christmas cards.


Robin

Christmas Robin

  • Scientific name: Erithacus rubecula
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

An animal associated with Christmas in Britain is the robin. This small bird is a common sight in woods and gardens in the British Isles and throughout much of Europe.

The robin is easily identified by its red breast. Another species with a red breast, the American robin, is so-named because it reminded European settlers in North America of the European robin.

The robin is associated with Christmas because it is one of the most frequently-seen garden birds during the winter months.


Turkey

Wild Turkey
Wild turkey in flight. Photo: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren [CC BY 2.0]
  • Scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo
  • Conservation status: Least Concern / Domestic

Turkey forms part of the traditional Christmas meal in many English-speaking countries. Turkeys farmed for food are domesticated wild turkeys. The species’ scientific name is Meleagris gallopavo.

Wild turkeys are native to North America, where they are the largest game bird. Despite their large size they are fast, powerful flyers.


Partridge

Partridge
Grey Partridges

Partridges are members of the bird family Phasianidae, which also includes pheasants, chickens, turkeys and several other groups of gamebirds. Partridges are Old World species, and are not native to North America, although the gray partridge has been introduced to the continent.

The partridge has become associated with Christmas due to its appearance in the English carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, in which a ‘partridge in a pear tree’ is one of the twelve gifts sent to the singer by their ‘true love’.


Turtle Dove (European)

Turtle Dove

  • Scientific name: Streptopelia turtur
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The turtle dove, like the ‘partridge in a pear tree’, is another of the gifts mentioned in the Christmas carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

The real turtle dove is a small, migratory member of the family Columbidae, which includes the pigeons and doves. It is unlikely that the turtle dove is actually seen in Europe at Christmas, as it spends the winter in southern Africa.

Today, due both to hunting and a change in farming methods, the turtle dove is threatened, and has a conservation status of ‘Vulnerable’.


Camel

Camels Dromedary.
Dromedary camels. Photo by Sebastian Laube.

Camels are members of the genus Camelus. There are three types of camel: the single-humped dromedary, and the double-humped Bactrian and wild Bactrian.

Both the dromedary and the Bactrian camel are domesticated, and are used for transport and as pack animals. The wild Bactrian camel is still found in the wild in Asia, and is Critically Endangered.

The three camel species are members of the mammal family Camelidae, which also includes animals such as llamas and alpacas.

The Three Wise Men, or Magi, are said to have traveled to Bethlehem on camels. The animals are often included in the Nativity scene.

You can find out more about camels on the following pages:


Sheep

Sheep
Photo by Kiki Falconer
  • Scientific name: Ovis aries
  • Conservation status: Domestic

Sheep are mammals in the subfamily Caprinae, which also contains goats. Caprinae is part of the family Bovidae, which includes related animals such as bison, buffalo, antelopes and cattle. Members of this family are known as bovids.

Like all bovids, sheep are hoofed animals with a complex digestive system that allows them to live on plants (such as grass) that other species would find hard to digest. By regurgitating their food and chewing it for a second time as ‘cud’, sheep can break down these tough plants.

In the Gospel of Luke, angels announce the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds who are tending to their flock. Sheep are a traditional part of the Nativity scene.


Goat

Goats

  • Scientific name: Capra aegagrus hircus
  • Conservation status: Domestic

Goats, like sheep, are members of the subfamily Caprinae. The domesticated form is a subspecies of the wild goat found in Asia.

In Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, the Yule Goat plays a part in traditional Christmas celebrations. Yule goat ornaments are placed under the Christmas tree, and larger Yule goats may be seen as part of a town’s decorations.


Wren

Wren

  • Scientific name: Troglodytes troglodytes
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The wren plays a part in the traditional Christmas festivities of Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and other European countries. In some regions, the day after Christmas is known as ‘Wren Day’.

Traditionally, a real wren was hunted and paraded through the town in order to collect money for festivities. This tradition has several variations, although today an imitation wren is used in place of a real one.

The Eurasian wren, around which the traditions are based, is a tiny bird in the family Troglodytidae. It is the third-smallest bird found in Britain, and the only member of its family found in Europe.


Penguins

Emperor penguins on Antarctica
Emperor penguins at Antarctica

Penguins are flightless birds found mainly in cold, southerly regions of the Southern Hemisphere. Only one species of penguin, the Galapagos penguin, is found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Although clumsy on land, penguins are excellent swimmers. Instead of flying in the air, these aquatic birds use their short, powerful wings to ‘fly’ through the water.

Penguins have only become associated with Christmas because they live in cold climates. They are often seen on Christmas cards alongside polar bears and reindeers, which in real life would be impossible, as they live literally on the other side of the world!


Ox

Ox
Photo by Heye Jensen
  • Scientific name: Bos taurus
  • Conservation status: Domestic

The ox, together with the ass (or donkey) is part of a traditional Christmas nativity scene. The presence of both animals is alluded to in the Book of Isaiah.

Oxen are domesticated cattle that are used in a number of roles, including transporting goods and pulling ploughs. Cattle were first domesticated over 10,000 years ago.


Boar

Wild Boar

 

  • Scientific name: Sus scrofa
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The wild boar is a large member of the pig family Suidae. It is found throughout much of Europe and Asia and in parts of Africa. The wild boar has also been introduced to North America and Australia.

A boar was traditionally part of the Yuletide feast in Nordic countries. Norsemen would place their hands on the Yule Boar and make oaths which they would have to fulfil.

Today, pork is still a traditional dish during the Christmas period in Norway.


Rooster

Rooster

  • Scientific name: Gallus gallus domesticus
  • Conservation status: Domestic

In Spain and Spanish-speaking countries around the world, a Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass), is celebrated on or around Christmas Eve. The celebrations often involve a chicken dish of some kind.

Roosters are male chickens. A domestic chicken is a subspecies of red junglefowl, a species native to Asia.


Christmas Animals: Conclusion

We hope that you’ve enjoyed finding out about the animals associated with Christmas in various parts of the world. What’s your favorite Christmas animal? Are there any animals we’ve left out? Let us know in the comments section below!

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a very happy Christmas!

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