The 12 creatures of Christmas

Why is Santa’s sleigh powered by reindeer? Are partridges actually found in pear trees? And what on Earth do kangaroos have to do with the holidays?

We associate a lot of animals with the festive period, but have you ever stopped to wonder why? If so, wonder no more—we’ve dug around and found out the answers to all your Christmas creature conundrums.



Penguins appear on cards and gift wrap year after year, but the only thing these flightless birds have to do with Christmas is the fact that they tend to live in cold climates. None of the 17 species of penguin live anywhere near the North Pole, so you certainly won’t find Father Christmas keeping one as a pet.


robinRobins chirping away in British gardens are a familiar sight throughout winter. Victorian postmen were nicknamed robins because they wore red jackets, which led to images of the red-breasted birds delivering Christmas mail becoming widespread. This is probably how they became icons of the holidays.



The image of three kings arriving in Bethlehem on the backs of camels is synonymous with Christmas. However, while the Bible mentions wise ‘magi’ giving gifts to the baby Jesus, there’s no mention of camels. Other parts of the Bible involving the desert animals have been questioned, as studies from archaeologists claim that they didn’t arrive in countries like Palestine until the 10th century BC, long after Biblical characters like Abraham used them.



Roast goose was actually the Christmas meat of choice for most Brits until the 16th century. Originally imported from America, turkey was seen as a luxury up until the 1950s. Now we eat around 10 million of the poor birds every Christmas.

Polar bear

polar bear

Like penguins, polar bears are only considered festive due to their proximity with snow. If you fancy doing some good this Christmas, consider donating to the WWF, who are helping to protect the shrinking Arctic ice caps these magnificent mammals call home.  



Ignoring the fact that a partridge in a pear tree would be a highly inconvenient Christmas present, it’s not impossible that you might find one of these chubby pheasants roosting in the branches. That said, these birds tend to make their nests on the ground.

Turtle dove

turtle dove

Turtle doves are common symbols of love, forming strong bonds with one another. This likely explains why the recipient in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ was given two of them.


Were you ever cast to play the role of a sheep in a Nativity play? If so, bad luck: your character would have met an untimely end at the hands of a temple slaughterer. The herds being watched by shepherds on December 25 were destined for sacrifice, foreshadowing the later sacrifice of Jesus himself.



No animal brings Christmas to mind like St Nick’s trusty sleigh-puller, the reindeer. Clement C. Moore’s famous poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’ is most commonly credited for the now-common depiction of Santa’s eight flying reindeer. However, the fact that reindeer sometimes forage for hallucinogenic mushrooms (and that some people have been known to drink reindeer urine to induce similar effects) could also explain their unusual skyward antics.



The Bible doesn’t actually mention Mary travelling to Bethlehem via donkey. However, since horses were generally used as war animals or to carry the rich, it is quite possible that she travelled from Nazareth on the back of one. This 80 mile journey would have taken between four and six days.



According to the Australian Christmas song ‘Six White Boomers’, it’s kangaroos who pull Santa’s sleigh rather than reindeer. These marsupials can reach 35 miles per hour and jump 25 feet in a single bound, so they’d probably cover a lot of ground while helping the big man to deliver gifts.



You know how the message goes: ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. However, these loyal pets continue to be unfairly dumped after the excitement of Christmas morning has died down. If you’re serious about inviting a dog into your family, consider visiting an animal shelter in the new year and adopting one of the many unfortunate pooches who find themselves there through no fault of their own.