Animals at Christmas – Quiz Answers!

Cat playing with Christmas hat

I hope everyone and their animals have had a great Christmas! Now, on Christmas Eve we posted a festive Quiz – so here, as requested, are the answers! If you haven’t answered the Quiz yet – give it a go here… and no cheating with Google…


1) What Christmas decoration is inspired by spiders – and why?

The answer is, of course, tinsel! It comes from the Legend of the Spider’s Web. The idea is that as the baby Jesus’ family were fleeing from the murderous King Herod, they had to hide from soldiers trying to kill them in a cave or hollow. A spider saved them by spinning a web, and when the dew formed on the web, it glittered – the soldiers assumed there couldn’t be anyone inside, or the spider wouldn’t have spun so large a web, and so moved on.

A different version of the story is told in the Ukraine and some other Eastern European regions. They tell of the spiders decorating the Christmas tree with their webs, and then suddenly realising that they had spoiled Christmas for the children! But fortunately, Saint Nicholas (or, in some versions, Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost, or Jesus) took pity on them, and turned the webs into gold and silver, delighting the whole family the next day.

Spiders are much misunderstood animals, and tinsel reminds us of this… and you can read some of the stories about them here. If you knew both versions of the story without Googling, have a bonus point!


2) What animal is responsible for the tune of Silent Night?

This question usually gets answers like “nightingale” or “owl”, which is quite nice, but isn’t really what I was after. The answer is much more interesting.

Silent Night was originally written to be played on a guitar, not a church organ. The story is that at Christmas 1818, the organ in the little church of Oberndorf wasn’t working, and the curate had to arrange some music for Midnight Mass. However, he managed to persuade a local musician, Franz Gruber, to play a tune on his guitar to match the words he had planned. The carol was a hit, and Silent Night was born. But why was that local lullaby paired with those words? Because mice had chewed away the organ pipes!

You can read more about the various legends surrounding this carol here.


3) How many animals were delivered on the Twelfth Day of Christmas in the Carol?

This one’s straightforward – if you stop and think for a moment! Now, pipers, ladies, rings etc. aren’t animals, so what are we left with?

Seven swans a-swimming, 

Six geese a-laying,

Five gold rings [which we don’t count!]

Four calling birds,

Three french hens,

Two turtle doves,

And a partridge in a pear tree!

Making twenty three in total.


4) What do wild reindeer eat (their natural food – not counting carrots and mince pies!)?

Easy if you read Sarah’s blog! Mainly lichen – a special sort sometimes called reindeer moss.


5) When were reindeer fully domesticated?

There’s good evidence that people were hunting and eating reindeer 45,000 years ago. While a few scholars believe that loose-herding (basically, migrating with the herds, protecting them from predators and helping them out when needed) started as early as 30,000 years ago, most researchers date any significant degree of domestication (reducing the urge to migrate, and altering their physical characteristics) to perhaps 3000 BC. However, even now, reindeer are not fully domesticated! You can read about their fascinating history here.


6) Who was famous as the first person to eat turkey for Christmas dinner?

It was, of course, Henry VIII. Before his divorce and subsequent rapid switching of wives, in 1523, the newly discovered turkey was served at a great Christmas feast.

The Tudors were great fans of Christmas (and feasting, for that matter) – read about how they celebrated here.


7) Why do robins sing, even in the winter?

While robins do sing in the spring to attract a mate, in the winter they have a much darker reason for chirping. While to us it may sound like a pretty noise, to other robin’s it’s a “keep out – trespassers will be persecuted!” – it’s territorial marking. Robins defend a territory from others, and the song is a warning that invaders will be attacked. Of course, it’s also a fine balancing act – a robin who doesn’t sing will save energy, but might lose some food to an ambitious rival; but, tf they have enough energy left over after getting through the cold night, they sing. So, if you have a quiet robin in your garden – feed him, he’s probably really hungry!


8) Why is Christmas cake bad for dogs?

So many reasons! But for starters, it contains raisins (can cause kidney problems), alcohol (really toxic for dogs) and lots of fat (can cause pancreatitis). Read our Christmas Dangers blog for more information, but basically, no cake or pudding for pets!


9) What bird was traditionally hunted over Christmas, as part of early British celebrations?

Bizarre as it seems to us now, the pre-Christian Britons had a thing for hunting wrens. The details are here, but it isn’t something we’d encourage nowadays! How about making a new tradition – the Feeding of the Wrens instead?


10) According to legend, what do horses, cattle and donkeys do at midnight on Christmas Eve?

In different parts of Europe, there are different stories; however, two are very common. Firstly, there is the old legend that on the stroke of midnight, these animals gain the ability for one hour of the year to talk. But woe betide any human who listens to them… it won’t be to their advantage!

The other legend seems to have lasted longer, and is still held by some people in more rural areas of the UK today. This one claims that at midnight, all the horses, cattle and donkeys rise and kneel, in remembrance of Christmas. But, and here’s the catch, they won’t do it if anyone’s watching.


I used to think it was rubbish, until I realised that my horses always had clean knees on Christmas Eve, and Boxing Day morning – but their knees (and only their knees) were always covered with mud and shavings on Christmas Day morning…


Merry Christmas to everyone!


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