There is a very lovely ancient tradition that holds that on Christmas eve, at midnight, animals are given the power of speech. I’ve even heard it said that at midnight, all the animals sing songs of praise.
Walking into the warm barn, coming in from the icy, windy dark outside, it’s easy to believe this lovely story. I look into the slender faces of my familiar, much loved goats, with their dark eyes and knowing expressions, and I can easily imagine them opening their mouths to sing at midnight. Glenda, Wandi, Patsi, Juliette – I know all their names, and I can tell them all apart, as identical as they might seem to a stranger. I can imagine just how each of their voices might sound, raised in the choir. Juliette rears up her hind legs to have her cheek scratched – just there, by the hinge of her jaw –and to rub her head lovingly against my shoulder.
I come here every day, twice a day, to milk these goats and commune with these lovely animals, and they have taught me a thing or two about miracles.
They have taught me about dedication, and patience, and discipline. Waking up at 6 am on a freezing morning, and going outside sounds like a punishment when I’m wrapped in my duvet. But as soon as I haul myself up and out, and into the barn, I realize the truth of it – coming into the barn is my reward. The teaching really is in the practice – putting my hands on the goats, tending them and receiving the healing milk that they give me, is all I need to know of magic.
The Christian tradition holds that the king is born in midwinter. The pagan tradition too, speaks of rebirth in the time of darkness. It is a principle as old as man, when we were frightened and crouching in the caves, waiting for the light to return. Peasants have milked goats as long as humans have been around, and I follow this time-honored tradition with gratitude now, as the warm streams of milk hit my pail in a fragmented melody.
In that song, I can hear everything I need to know about rebirth. These goats are pregnant in the darkness, gestating new life. In the spring the kids will be born, and the milk will be freshened. The life force dies back, and blossoms up again. New life. It is a miracle that we few – who are lucky enough to tend the farm – learn over again with our hands and feet, arms and eyes and hearts, every year without fail.
Christmas eve, in the darkness – the goats and I wait together in the silence. We wait for the rebirth that is certain. It is certain as life, certain as breath, as certain as the knowledge that someday, spring will come again and light will return to the world.