December 20, 2022 at 2:38 p.m.

The legend of the Nativity donkey

The legend of the Nativity donkey
The legend of the Nativity donkey

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment


LeClaire loves raising animals, including a donkey

Mild-mannered Isaac the donkey beds down in a red Amish-built barn that also houses Pedro, a draft hose, and Ethel and Renegade, two mules, at the rural Greenwald property of Pete and Kathy LeClaire.

On Isaac’s back is a black cross marking, found on donkeys. The donkey is one of the few animal breeds with the image of a dark cross on its back, running down their spines and across their shoulders, Pete LeClaire said.

Legends explaining a donkey’s cross vary, with some revolving around Christmas and Easter traditions.

The origins of one Christian legend of the Nativity donkey, recognized by the cross on its back, states, “Many, many years ago, God used a little donkey to carry Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born in a stable and lay in a manger. Many years later, a donkey would carry Jesus to Jerusalem where He would die upon the cross. God marked the donkey’s back with a cross. It stands as a reminder of God’s son Jesus, who was born and died for us all.” – source unknown.

For this reason, donkeys are commonly depicted in the birth of Christ manger scene, along with the Holy Family, the angels, the Magi, the ox and an assortment of shepherds, villagers and servants.

According to another legend, Jesus told God about how generous the donkey had been carrying him to Jerusalem and offering to help. After hearing of the donkey’s good deeds, God blessed the animal and placed his cross on the backs of all donkeys to mark them as holy.

Stories indicate the donkey that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was named Nestor. The story of Lokael, the donkey who carried Jesus to Jerusalem, is told through the eyes of Loshem, a lowly donkey, whom later Jesus named Lokael.

Some say Jesus rode a donkey to symbolize peace. In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses if they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace, according to the internet. The wild donkey is also a sign of nobleness and royalness.

LeClaire, on Dec. 12, said donkeys are considered work animals.

A male donkey is called a jack, and a female donkey is called a jenny. There are different species but three sizes of donkeys – miniature, standard and mammoth. Isaac is a standard donkey, and LeClaire estimates he is close to 30 years old. Isaac is 13 hands tall. One hand is close to four inches. LeClaire, a history buff, estimates donkeys, who are hardy animals, can live close to 40 years.

In 2000, Isaac joined the LeClaires’ menagerie of animals, which, over the years, also included more draft horses, chickens, a steer and dogs.

“I moved here in ’89 and in ’95 got my first mule and horse,” LeClaire said. “I had nine animals when the barn was built in 2007.”

Neighbor Danny Pung got him hooked on mules, which are an offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.

“They are a more sure-footed animal,” LeClaire said.

Most days his animals stay outside.

“Donkeys and mules can take the heat and the cold doesn’t bother them,” he said.

LeClaire uses the horse and mules to pull a wagon when going to town.

He said people use donkeys to guard their sheep because they are protective. Isaac is more of a pet.

“He knows he’s spoiled,” LeClaire said.

Like Pedro, Isaac gets fed hay once a day, and in the summer they feed on the pasture.

“As long as they have hay and water, they are happy,” he said.

LeClaire said donkeys are “very smart.”

“A horse, when it gets scared, his instinct is to run and a donkey will freeze, find out what the problem is and take care of it,” he said.

And donkeys won’t hurt themselves, like other animals.

“If they get caught on a fence, they will wait until you come to help them,” LeClaire said.

Donkeys can be “very vocal,” he said, of their bellowing or braying.

He remembers one year, during a Christmas program in Meire Grove, Pung had his black-colored donkey in the Nativity scene.

“The donkey stood in the manager with his ears forward and never made a sound,” LeClaire said.

The LeClaires will soon put their Nativity scene up in their home, and chances are a donkey will have a prominent place with other animals, all facing Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. Much like a donkey is in the Nativity scene in the Church of St. Michael in Spring Hill where the LeClaires are active members, singing in the choir and participating in other ministries.

“Just a little donkey, but on my back I bore the one and only Savior the world was waiting for. Just a little donkey but I was strong and proud. I proudly carried Mary through the chaos of the crowd. I brought her to a stable where she made a tiny bed … a place for Baby Jesus to lay his little head. I pray the world remembers that special Christmas night when just a little donkey carried Heaven’s Precious Light.” – Rita S. Beer


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