Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A brief history of the Christmas robin

There are few symbols as enduring of Christmas and the winter chill than the robin, with its iconic breast of red contrasting the bare trees, snow and ice.

Though Christmas is a time of celebrating the birth of a boy god in the Middle East, so much of what we identify as yuletide has its origins in European tradition – from Scandinavia, Lapland and Germany. The European robin is one such example. The small songbird is frequently found adorning Christmas trees, greetings cards and, of course, the garden fence and feeder.

After scouting out a suitable spot for a scoff, the robin will return all the way through the winter. With its flame coloured throat, it’s impossible to mistake the bird for any other, though you can tell it apart also by its song which it serenades us with all through winter. But where exactly did this festive connection come from?

Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Ian D Nicol

Well, Victorian postmen used to be referred to as robins on account of their red tunics. The posties delivered greetings cards and, ipso facto, the birds became a seasonal staple on stamps and cards since the mid-19th century. And there they’ve endured, surpassing the nativity itself as icons of traditional Christmas drift further and further into memory.

Going back to Jesus for a minute, legend claims that when the old miracle worker was in the middle of being crucified, a robin brown in colour flew to his side and sang in his ear to sooth his pain. The blood from Christ’s wounds stained the bird’s breast red and so all robins since bear the mark of his blood.

The robin often comes out top on polls of the UK’s best loved birds, so it’s safe to say that the British reserve a certain affection for the redbreast. But the feeling isn’t mutual across the Bloc, with the birds shot for sport or food across Europe.

It’s a perilous time from November through to spring and so robins will set aside any pretensions of picky eating and chow down on what they’re given. Most any kitchen scraps will suffice, and gluttony abounds this time of year, so why not spare a thought for the robin this Christmas and share the good tidings.

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