The Urban Countryside – Christmas in the Countryside.

by Albert Nolan

For kids the days before Christmas seem to get longer and longer while for poor harassed parents there just isn’t enough hours in the day. If the stress of the festive season is getting you down try taking a short walk in your garden or park and discover some of the fascinating wildlife associated with Christmas.


At this time of the year Robins are transported all over the world on the front of cards

The Victorians were avid card senders and when companies were looking for an image that people could relate too they choose the Robin.


These birds have become intimately linked with Christmas and are as much a part of the celebration as plum pudding and a glass of wine. The robin was supposed to have been present at the birth of our lord. A fire had been lit in the stable as the weather was very cold. The robin noticed that the fire was going out and he flew down and fanned the embers with his wings and the flames blazed up. He was rewarded with a red breast as a mark of his courage and consideration.


The wren also has close links with Christmas but its role is far more sinister. Tradition states that the native Irish were trying to sneak up on a Danish camp but the traitorous  wren hopped onto one of their drums and woke them up. The Irish were beaten and the poor little bird was vilified in the country. Each year on St Stephens’s day the wren was hunted. Boys and girls would dress up in costumes and travel from house to house singing songs in return for a few pennies. This tradition used to be very strong but I have not seen a wren boy in several years.


The hedgerows have been full of berries this year and this was considered nature’s way of helping wildlife survive a harsh winter. The Hawthorn tree is often linked to Jesus as its thorns represent our lords “crown of thorns” and the red berries his blood. For birds these berries are a precious source of food and they also support large flocks of winter migrants that come to Ireland to avoid the harsh weather in their native countries.


Redwings and Fieldfares are winter visitors from Scandinavia. They start to arrive in late autumn and will have departed by early spring. They can be found in large mixed flocks and when the weather gets very cold they will come into parks and gardens in search of food. They feed on grubs, seeds and berries and when I see my first birds I know that Christmas is just around the corner.


The Snowberry is a garden shrub that is slowly spreading throughout our hedgerows. It has bright white berries and when we were younger we called them “Billy busters” and would squeeze them between our fingers. Even if we didn’t get a white Christmas we still had natures snowballs to hold in our hands. Wishing you a Happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.


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