The Animal Christmas Gift… from my Dad

Many years ago, my father – the eminent doctor – was still alive, though he was already very sick and would not last another year. Still, he came to me with an idea for a Christmas story. I was writing for the Wonderful World of Disney at the time, had sold a few narrative poems to magazines, and was eager to work on his story with him. Sign Magazine, a national Catholic monthly, published the piece as part of their Christmas Issue. It received some very nice reviews from readers. Since then, the world has moved on, of course. These kinds of Christmas stories are not as popular as they once were. But if you want to know something about the faith of that earlier time and what kind of man my father really was, read our story.

 

 

THE ANIMAL GIFT

 

By Dr. Nick Iuppa & Son

 

Animals know when the winter will come,

When icy winds turn fingers numb

And fields and plains are covered with snow.

Secretly, silently animals know.

 

Animals know when the moon will rise,

When sleep will come to children’s eyes.

They know the land where dreamers go.

Secretly, silently animals know.

 

Animals watched one star-filled night,

When the heavens gleamed with a brilliant light.

A new star moved through the evening sky,

First faint, then far, and then nearby.

And animals watched the darkened skies,

But so did many other eyes.

 

In distant lands where rivers meet,

A learned man in sandaled feet

And glowing robes in gilded towers

Watched the sky for countless hours,

Then met with other learned men

To talk of the stars that were shining then,

Especially that one bright-brilliant star

That came with such purpose from so far.

 

In books of ancient prophecy,

They’d read of the things that would come to be.

They knew that the star was sent to bring

News of the birth of a noble king,

Who would lead an army with bold commands

To conquer strange and distant lands.

 

But the dove who fluttered by that night

Knew these thoughts were far from right.

A kingdom yes, but so much more,

An army, like no one before.

And so the bird flew off to sing

To the animal world of the coming king.

 

 

This was the age, the year, the day

That sometimes seemed so far away,

That animals told their daughters and sons

Would come in the lives of the fortunate ones,

That animal poets sang in rhyme

The central day in all of time.

 

The mockingbird sang of that happy day.

The monkeys never ceased their play

But chattered forth and back again

About the foolish world of men

That knew so little of sacred things.

The lions who themselves were kings

Paused for a moment in regal thought

Then freed the gazelle that they’d just caught.

 

The world of the star and the birth of the king

Had given the sparrow a new song to sing

A king was born. Men knew not who,

But Secretly, silently animals knew.

 

 

Still, animals don’t know the plans of man.

There were camels in a caravan,

Who trudged through the desert without ever knowing

What was their load or where they were going.

But night followed night and day followed day,

And that bright-brilliant star showed them the way.

 

And then one cold and windy night,

A camel caught a moment’s sight

Of what their heavy packs must surely hold

Myrrh and frankincense and gold,

Not a heavy load, not hard to lift.

But what was its purpose? Could it be a gift?

 

“A gift,” the lion roared aloud.

“A gift,” he commanded the animal crowd.

Mankind is bringing a gift to the king.

How could we forget so important a thing?

 

“From ivory,” the elephant trumpeted high,

“We’ll build him a tower that touches the sky.”

“We’ll carve him a scepter,” the beaver declared,

“A symbol of power that monarchs have shared.”

 

The eagle announced that it wanted to fly

And bring back the fire that brightens the sky.

And the animals argued far into the night

Each of them feeling their gift would be right.

 

Till the lion cried out in terrible distress;

For he had no idea which gift would be best.

Then he lowered his head to ask his young son

If the cub had a thought of what should be done.

“Sleep daddy sleep,” was all that he said.

But it started a thought in the great lions head,

“The king is a baby who needs a soft bed.”

 

The animals knew where the king would be born:

A far away stable along and forlorn.

The ox cleared the manger of straw and of hay,

And the animals journeyed from miles away

To contribute the very finest of things

For the softest of beds for the king of all kings.

 

The great beasts gave fur from their coats it is said,

To form the warm base of the new royal bed.

Wool was a gift from the lambs in the fold,

To assured that the king would be safe from the cold.

 

The birds of the air, that had built lovely nests,

Made pillows from feathers they drew from their breasts.

And spiders, at last, spun their soft silken thread

To cover the down in the new royal bed.

 

Then the animals paused and whispered a prayer

That the king of all kings would be comfortable there.

And they smiled and knew they had given great wealth,

For each one had given a gift of itself.

 

*

 

The king has come and brought his word

And men and animals have heard

And legends say his birth was marred

By a manger that was cold and hard,

But animals know this was not so.

Secretly, silently animals know.

 

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