The Friendly Beasts – a Christmas Pageant

Jesus, our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude;
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried his mother up-hill and down,
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

(Mary and Joseph enter and get settled in the manger area; baby should be present. After speaking, each animal – or group of animals – may approach the manger or be seated as is appropriate for the size and age of the cast.)

The Donkey:

Joseph borrowed me for the trip. He was a kind man, a neighbor, and when he came to my master and explained the need, my master said, “Of course. Take him.” Take me? Take me where? To Bethlehem, he said. I’d never heard of Bethlehem. We had a long way to walk, and the lady needed to ride. You see, she was going to have a baby. She couldn’t make the journey on foot.

While we walked, she sang little songs to the baby, even though he wasn’t born yet. Her voice was so sweet. Even when I felt tired, I found the strength I needed. I had to get her there safely. I had to get the baby there, too. Finally, we arrived, but there was no room for them inside the inn. We all went to the stable together.

“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave him my manger for a bed,
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow, all white and red.

The Cow:

It was certainly curious. In they came, the man and the lady and the donkey, all of them exhausted from traveling so far. We don’t usually have people staying with us in the stable, you understand. But the town was crowded. Every stall—every room—was full. It was late at night when they came, and they were ready to rest.

But it wasn’t long until the lady sat up, and spoke softly to the man to wake him. “Joseph,” she said. “I’m here, Mary,” he answered. And it wasn’t long after that we heard the little baby’s voice. I never knew crying could sound so sweet. Of course I made room for him in the manger. It was just right for a crib. It was just right for a baby with no place else to go.

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

The Dove:

We were dozing in the rafters of the barn, where the heat rises to keep us and you can just see the starlight through a slit in the thatched roof. There was a beautiful star that night, so bright the light came right inside. I noticed it just after the baby was born. The starlight spilled right down like a lantern shining on the manger.

All the animals were quiet when the baby came, watching him, and then my mate and I began to sing, softly, a little lullaby for the baby. Babies sleep better when you sing to them. It’s just too bad the way people kept coming in and out, and interrupting our song. And his sleep. Still, we kept singing. We made it especially beautiful, for the baby.

“I,” said the dog, brown, black and white,
“I guarded the family all through the night.
I kept them safe ’til the morning light.”
“I,” said the dog, brown, black and white.

The Dog:

I didn’t like their looks. They were rough, and they smelled bad. Oh, I don’t mean the people with the baby! They were nice. I liked their smell. I mean the other guys, the ones who came later. They had sheep with them. So many sheep. You could smell those sheep coming a mile away.

Well, *I* could smell them coming. Not that they could hurt anyone. They’re just sheep. But those guys with the sheep, like I said, they looked rough. I had to look them over just outside the door. I gave them a good sniff. They were talking about angels, and stars. I don’t know about angels. But the light from the star was bright. I could see that. So I let them inside. And then I went back to the door, to keep them all safe.  That’s what I could give to the baby.

“I,” said the sheep with the curly horn,
“I gave him my wool for a blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with the curly horn.

The Sheep:

It was cold that night, a terrible night to have a baby. When the lambs are born, we always hope for a warm night. It’s better for the little ones, and better for the mamas, too. Everything goes harder when it’s cold. Little ones, newborns, whether they are lambs or people, need to be kept warm. In the fields, the sheep huddle together.

But that night, we walked. We followed the men into town, where they went into a little stable. I went right in with them, and I saw the little baby. It was cold that night, even in the stable. But I have wool to spare! I gave it willingly to warm the baby. He had a fine blanket out of my coat. And when his mother smiled at me, I felt warm, too.

“I,” said the cat, so soft and gray.
“I warmed the Babe in the chilly day,
for when I curl up it’s how I pray.”
“I,” said the cat, so soft and gray.

The Cat:

Oh, my goodness! What a night! So many visitors! So much noise, even though everyone kept saying, “Shh! Shh! The baby’s sleeping!” Don’t they know how much noise it makes when they say “Shh?!?!!” Honestly. People have such strange habits. I don’t know how some cats live in houses with them. I’ve always preferred the barn.

But these people weren’t so bad. After all the fuss of that first night was over, I came down from the hay loft to get a closer look at the baby. And then I curled up right next to him. His mother didn’t mind. I could tell. That little baby was a King, they kept saying, but I knew better. That little baby was God. So I curled right up next to him, and I purred my prayers.

“I” said the camel all yellow and black
Over the desert upon my back
I brought him a gift in the wise men’s pack
“I” said the camel all yellow and black.
The Camel:

We traveled for months through the desert, carrying heavy burdens on our backs. It’s what we’re made for, camels. We can take a long journey and carry a heavy load. I heard them say we were carrying gifts for a new king, so I expected we would be traveling to a palace. No wonder we were carrying such impressive presents: there was good-smelling frankincense, and expensive myrrh, and the heaviest load was on my back: gold.

I’ve been to palaces before. When you arrive, there is good food to eat and fresh water to drink. But when we got to the city, it was only a town. A little town. And we were not going to a palace, I could see that. The first place we stopped was a modest inn, and then someone sent us around to the back. There was a little stable, and when I looked through the door I could see a baby. And then they came to get the gold from my pack, and they laid it in front of his bed.

(Tableau at manger – Sing last two verses with the congregation)

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

Jesus, our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude;
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.

Production Note:

In the original production, the church choir sang the carol. In a larger congregation, a children’s choir might sing it.

“The Friendly Beasts” carol is set to the 12th Century tune Orientis Partibus, with English words written by Robert Davis (1881-1950). The speeches by the animals are the original work of the Rev. Martha K. Spong.

Extra verse Credits:

Dog verse – The Rev. Stephen Carnahan

Cat verse – The Rev. Kathryn Z. Johnston

Camel verse – Garth Brooks

First produced at the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in North Yarmouth, Maine. A collection was taken to benefit the church’s Pet Pantry, a ministry to pet owners struggling to feed their beloved “friendly beasts.”