The ox and the mule are possibly the most likeable characters in the Nativity Scene. But, there is something strange surrounding these two: we are unsure as to why they are there. We know the significance of the shepherds, the Romans and the angels, why the Wise Men are there and, of course, why the Baby Jesus is in the centre, but these two animals…
It is taken as a given that they are there because, if they were not, we might not know that where Christ was born was in a manger and not in a house. But, bearing in mind the symbolism that surrounds the Nativity Scene, is this explanation enough? Many people don’t think so and believe that if they are an ox and a mule, and not a pig and a cockerel, then that is for a particular reason.
The problem lies in the fact that there no writings or documents that explain the reason with any form of clarity. Because of this, as is often so in these cases, there are various theories. Let us share some of them with you:
- The meek: Oxen and mules are both farm animals, domesticated and docile. For many people, these two animals represent the meek who, according to the Beatitudes, shall inherit the earth.
- Duties and Reminders: There are some that think that the ox, by being the large animal that it is, and by warming the baby Jesus with its breath, reminds anyone looking at the Nativity Scene that you need a warm and protective environment in your home; whilst the mule, being a hard working and modest animal, reminds us to be humble.
- Primitive Symbols: Others believe that these two animals are symbols of two ancient societies that, eventually, unite. On one side you have the ox from the settled, agricultural towns; while on the other you have the mule representing the nomadic livestock keepers.
- The Sun and Moon: It is also said that the ox, large and golden coloured, is meant to be the sun and the mule, small and grey, the moon. What this is trying to say is that even the most opposed of beings can come together in adoration of the baby Jesus.
- The Date: This is similar to the last theory in that the ox is still the sun and the mule still the moon. The difference is that because the ox is larger than the donkey he is representing the Winter Solstice (when night is longer than the day) and this would be around the date of the birth of Jesus (between the 20th and 24th of December).
There are many more theories surrounding this, but these are some of the most interesting and most cited. However, we continue to prefer the most traditional tale explaining their presence in the Nativity Scene, and this is how it goes:
….An old peasant decided to sacrifice the old ox and the elderly mule that he owned because they were no longer able to be used for work. However, the night before the day on which he was going to kill them, the poor beasts, knowing the fate that awaited them, bolted from their stable. They roamed the streets until they came across a manger inside which they saw a couple with a shivering baby. The animals took pity on the little thing and decided to heat him up a little with their body heat and their breath. As you can imagine, that tiny baby was Jesus. Subsequently, God, who was very grateful for their act, made the animals young again, who then returned to their old stable and gave their owner a big surprise.
Did you like that story? Well….now you know a lot more than most older people when it comes to the ox and mule, so you can tell them this tale when they are looking at your Nativity Scene at home.