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The Christmas Donkey

By: Lynda Blankenship

My deepest thanks to Roy Hare for the inspiration and the editing of this story.

December is a cold and dreary month in the English countryside. The sun rises late and settles into the western sky early. It is a time when most of the land sleeps and waits for the warm spring air. But, deep in the land, lies a very special place. It is a place where animals of a certain type come to rest from a life of pain and work. Sometimes, the animals have been abused, but most just grew too large and became uncomfortable for their owners. The kind and generous people of England take them in and care for them with loving hands and hearts. In return the animals share their kindness with children who like themselves, need a bit of extra love.

Christmas Eve Day is a popular time at the donkey sanctuary. Families and children come to say thank you to the patient animals that have given them rides and made them laugh in the summertime. Gifts of apples and carrots are brought and shared with friends. It is a long day for the little donkeys and the large mules. They keep their best manners and refuse to give into their natural standoffishness. For they too know it is a special time.

When the children have left and taken the parents with them, the animals are returned to their warm stalls. Fed and watered, their keepers say good night and go off to their own families. Silence takes the place of the children's laughter and the youngest of the animals begins to beg for a story.

As in all tribes, the horse family always has its storytellers, individuals, who are entrusted with the history of the tribe. Here at the sanctuary they were lucky to have one of the finest of all the Horse Kind Storytellers, her name was Rosie. Rosie was what the humans called a mule, that meant she held the stories of both the horses and the donkeys. Rosie told the stories of the smallest horses who lived long ago and the stories of the giant war horses who carried their knights to the Holy Land. She also knew the stories of the Arab mares who met the stallions on the field of battle. She told the stories of the Zebras of the African Plains and the Mustangs of the American West. Somehow she even knew the stories of the Mongol horses who had carried the warriors of the Khan across the world. But on this night, the young always wanted to hear the same story. A story she had told and retold for longer than she could remember. It was the story of Sari, a humble donkey, a donkey like most of them.

Rosie took a large drink of water, then began. "Now, you must all be still and not interrupt my story with questions." She settled back on her hind legs and closed her eyes so that she could see the story in her mind.

"Long ago in a land far away from this cold place lived a young man and woman. They had recently married and one of the gifts they received was a beautiful young donkey, whom they named Sari. She was as perfect as ever donkeys can be. Her legs were strong and her back broad, her ears small and her eyes large. Her disposition was that of a lady, which was only right because the woman with whom she now lived was as sweet a creature as one could ever hope to share a home. The young woman sang as she went through her day. A melody young Sari thought quite beautiful. Like all donkeys she had an ear for quality. She saw the young man, who was mate to the woman, working in his shop. He made things of wood and he always smelt of sawdust, a scent that donkeys love. The two were kind and loving toward each other and both treated Sari as a member of the family. She was always fed and watered before they sat down to their humble meal. The woman saved the best of the garden for their table, but she always shared with Sari. She could tell they were poor people; a donkey has a sense of things like that. Donkeys love garbage and rich people have much garbage, but this young couple had only what they needed, no more. And they wasted nothing. But, they had love and donkeys can feel that. Because when you love someone, you are kind to all things. They were kind and Sari loved them, even without garbage.

The woman was growing large for she was with child. The larger she got, the more she asked Sari to help. Sari gladly carried the vegetables from the garden and walked beside the woman to carry the burdens she could no longer carry for herself. Sari was happy to truly be of use. The woman patted her after each excursion in the gentle way of saying thank you. Her touch was sweet and the little donkey loved the feeling of her strokes.

One day the man came to Sari and whispered in her ear that he had an important job for her. He had always been kind and if he needed her, she would do all she could to be of help.

The man took her from her little stall beside his workshop and together they went to the woman standing with a large bundle beside her. The man placed a harness and a blanket upon Sari's back. He helped the woman up and she came to rest on Sari's broad frame. Never before had she felt the weight of a human, and she didn't much care for it, but she did love the woman. If this was the help the man needed from her, she would do her duty by her little family.

It was a long walk, longer than Sari had ever walked before. She had always thought of the world as a very small place. The garden, the town, the workshop and the tiny house were all she had known of the world. But now she found herself on a long road, it was easy walking, but she saw others of her kind, each carrying burdens of many sorts. Some so laden, they could hardly move. But, in true donkey tradition each put one foot in front of the other until the day ended and the burden was laid down and they could rest. There was much chattering among the donkeys. Where were they all going? No one seemed to know how long they would be on the road or what would be found at the end. Sometimes, they would separate and head onto different roads.

And then it was Sari's turn to leave the road. A small town ahead beckoned the man to it. He began to knock on doors and each door turned him away. Sari was cold and she knew the woman was uncomfortable. She had tried to keep her gait steady, but the woman moved as if she were in some sort of pain. Sari tried to be still so the woman could find a spot upon which to rest. She walked ever so slowly, watching carefully in the night not to stumble.

Finally, the man led her toward the smell of fresh straw. The smell was unmistakable and as they approached the small building, Sari could smell the warmth of the other creatures. She heard none of her kind, but cattle and sheep rolling their tongues in their own languages. Speaking of how cold it had gotten, but also wondering about all the people crowded into their little corner of the world.

When the little troop had arrived inside, the man helped the woman off of Sari's back. Sari was happy to be relieved of her burden, but something was wrong with her friend. She worried that it might have been her uneven steps that caused the problem, but then the man gave her a long stroke with his hand, and the woman whispered lovingly into her ear. The man brought her fresh straw and water from a bucket.

The woman bent down and undid the bundle she had brought with her. She removed a blanket of the softest wool. She had spent many days at her loom, humming her songs and weaving this blanket. Then from the pack she took a course woven blanket worn with wear and laid it upon the straw the man had placed at her feet. Soon, she lay down as human's do when they sleep, but she was not sleeping. The cow knew that she was giving birth. The sheep crowded in and kept the cold air from reaching the young woman. Sari moved closer and with astonishment she saw that her burden had not been just the woman, but also a tiny version of the humans. A tiny naked thing, whose cry woke up a sleeping dog. Sari was very happy now that she had not stumbled. The donkey was proud and happy for she had carried this family to safety.

The child grew strong in his humble surroundings and one day the man came to Sari again and told her there would be another journey. This time, the woman wore the baby in a wrap around her chest. As Sari walked slowly and carefully, the woman sang to the little creature and Sari loved the songs. She walked and walked for days until finally they came to a river called The Nile. The man stopped walking and Sari stopped walking and the family set up a home in Egypt where they would live.

Sari lived with her little family for many years and when they returned to their home in Nazareth, Sari too became a mother. She and her daughter lived and worked with great pride, for theirs was a life of travel and service. In time, her daughter would carry the now grown child into Jerusalem in a parade of triumph. When the boy who was now a man got off her back, the man came to the ear of his childhood playmate and he whispered, "Oh donkey who has always been faithful, who has given all and asked for so little, may you and your kind be blessed for all eternity, and may those who give you joy receive joy in abundance." Then he disappeared into the crowd, never to be seen by the donkeys again.

And so my little friends, it is the donkey the world has to thank for this day of they call Christmas, because the gift of Sari's faithfulness is forever celebrated. Gifts are given in memory of Sari and her burden. A burden she gladly carried. And so she is known among our kind as the Christmas Donkey, she who taught us to be joyful."

As she finished her story, looked around and saw that some of the young ones had fallen asleep. She smiled to the older ones and said, "It is good to know the stories of our tribe." The others smiled and hoped next to hear of the donkey that discovered a new world. That was a favorite.

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