Christmas Animals: Animals Associated With Christmas Around The World

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

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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 find out what part they play in Yuletide celebrations, and also discover interesting facts about the animals themselves...

Christmas Animals List

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  • Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Reindeer are large deer found in cold, northerly regions in the northern hemisphere. In North America, reindeer are known as ‘caribou’.

The antlers of the male reindeer are the second-largest of all deer; only the moose's are larger. Reindeer / caribou are the only deer species in which females have antlers.

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

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’.

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Donkey With Foal
  • Scientific name: Equus africanus asinus
  • Conservation status: Domestic

The donkey is a member of the family Equidae, which is also home to horses, asses and zebras.

Donkeys are descended from the African wild ass, a critically endangered species found in deserts and other harsh, dry regions in East Africa.

Donkeys were first domesticated around 5,000 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 with Joseph.

  • You can find out more about donkeys on this page: Donkey Facts

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Polar Bear

Polar Bear
  • Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

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

Of the eight species of bear, the polar bear is the largest (on average) and the most carnivorous. (You can see all eight types of bear on this page: Types of Bears.)

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.

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

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

An animal associated with Christmas in the British Isles 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 associated with Christmas because it is one of the most frequently-seen garden birds during the winter months.

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. Although both birds are called robins, they belong to different families and are only distantly related.

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Cardinal (Northern)

Northern Cardinal Male And Female
Northern cardinal female (left) and male (right)
  • Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The cardinal is a striking North American bird known for its vibrant red plumage, making it easily recognizable and iconic in North America.

Male cardinals are especially eye-catching, with brilliant crimson feathers, a distinctive crest on their heads, and a black mask around their eyes. In contrast, females have a more subdued appearance with a soft brownish-red coloration.

These birds are not only admired for their striking appearance but also for their melodic and clear whistling songs, which are a delightful part of the spring and summer soundscape.

Cardinals are year-round residents in many parts of the United States and Canada, adding a touch of color and charm to gardens and woodlands throughout the year.

The vibrant red plumage of cardinals makes them a popular bird to represent the holiday season.

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Eastern Wild Turkey
Male wild turkey
  • 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 domesticated turkey and wild turkey are the same species, with the scientific name 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.

Male turkeys are around twice the size of females, and have red wattles (fleshy growths) on the neck and colorful, iridescent feathers. Females are brown / gray in color.

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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’.

Real life partridges are ground-nesting birds, and would not usually be seen in pear trees!

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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 song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

The turtle dove is a small member of the family Columbidae, which includes all pigeons and doves.

It is unlikely that the turtle dove is actually seen in Europe at Christmas, as it is a migratory species that spends the winter in southern Africa.

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

'The Twelve Days of Christmas’ may be a traditional English song, but the turtle dove is on the brink of extinction in the UK.

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Camels Dromedary.
Dromedary camels. Photo by Sebastian Laube.

Camels are members of the genus Camelus. There are three species of camel: the dromedary, which has one hump; and the Bactrian and wild Bactrian, both of which have two humps.

Both the dromedary and the Bactrian camel are domesticated animals, and are used for transport and as pack animals. The wild Bactrian camel is 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:

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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.

Male sheep are known as 'rams'; female sheep are known as 'ewes'.

Like all bovids, sheep are hoofed animals with a complex digestive system that allows them to live on plants (such as grass) that other animals 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.

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

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

Goats, like sheep, are members of the subfamily Caprinae. (Caprinae is part of the family Bovidae, which contains related hooved animals such as cattle and antelopes.)

The domestic goat is descended from the wild goat Capra hircus, a species still 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 made of straw may be seen as part of a town’s decorations.

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  • 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 then 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, the bird around which the traditions are based, is a tiny brown species with a surprisingly loud call. It is one of eighty-eight members of the wren family, Troglodytidae, and the only one found in Europe. It is the third-smallest bird found in the UK.

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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 Galápagos penguin, is found in the Northern Hemisphere. It lives on the Galápagos Islands, which are located on the Equator.

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 are associated with Christmas because they live in cold climates. They are often seen on Christmas cards alongside polar bears and reindeer. In real life this would be impossible, as most penguins literally live on the other side of the world to polar bears and reindeer!

(Polar bears and reindeer live in Arctic regions in the Northern Hemisphere; penguins live around Antarctica and other regions of the Southern Hemisphere.)

Santa Claus would definitely not be able to see penguins from the window of his North Pole workshop!

The largest penguin species is the emperor penguin, which reaches heights of up to 1 m / 39 in.

  • You can find out more about penguins on this page: Penguin Facts
  • You can see pictures and facts on all the different types of penguin on this page: Penguin Types
  • You can see more Antarctic animals on this page: Antarctic Animals

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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. Both animals are mentioned 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.

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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.

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  • 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 (Gallus gallus), a species native to tropical Asia.

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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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