THE WILD GEESE OF BETHLEHEM
a child's Christmas story
by Murray Andrew Pura
You have heard that there were animals in the stable when Jesus was born and that these animals - a donkey, a milk cow, a pony, an ox - were all farm animals. This is only partly true. What no one has told you is that there were also geese, but not any kind of geese, wild geese, geese as wild as the great Canada Goose that flies over many of our towns and ranches by the hundreds and thousands this time of year. Yes,there are wild geese in Germany and China and India too. They are everywhere. Did you know there are more than 40 different species of wild geese in the world? One kind is the graylag goose. It has grey and brown feathers, an orange bill, and pink legs and feet. This goose winters all across southern Europe and southern Asia. It was thiskind of goose that flew into Bethlehem on Christmas Eve two thousand years ago.
A group of 77 of them - what we call a skein - was crossing the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, flying south into India from China. Geese fly over the Himalayas at more than 29,000 feet. That’s over five miles high! No other bird, not even the great condor, flies that high. But that’s how far up you have to go if you want to get over the tallest peak in the world, Mount Everest. And that’s how high this skein’s leader, whose name was Fashida, was taking his friends and family.
Fashida is a name for the wind in Arabic and perhaps it was because of this, and because the wind always loved to play with Fashida, that a great wind from the East came and blew upon him. This wind blew so long and with so much strength it carried the 77 geese off their course and took them west over what we now call Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq. That is how they wound up landing in a field outside of Bethlehem. Don’t be surprised. Although it was a journey of 1500 miles wild geese can stay in the air for over 1000 miles at a time. And the 77 had a big wind to help them.
They were tired but they were also hungry. Fashida - who, because he was a male we call a gander - led his geese toward the smell of corn. Geese love corn and there was some in a sack in the stable where Jesus was sleeping. Wild geese are afraid of people, but Fashida went first and saw that no one was moving by the stable or hiding nearby with a stick. When a group of geese are on the ground they are called a gaggle and the hunger of Fashida’s gaggle was so strong they all came into the stable and began to eat out of the sack. It is impossible for a gaggle of geese to stay quiet all the time so this one did make some noise. But Joseph was exhausted and in a deep sleep. And Mary, who had just given birth to Jesus, was even more exhausted. Only Jesus had his eyes wide open. He was not asleep because he had twisted out of the blankets wrapped around him and he was very cold.
Fashida sensed this. So did Fashida’s mother. It was as if Jesus was a gosling in trouble and they both climbed into the manger with him, one on either side of his little body. Goose down is still one of the warmest things we can put in our sleeping bags and winter jackets and Jesus was surrounded with it. In no time at all he was as warm as the sun. Even cow elk have saved children’s lives in the Rocky Mountains by lying beside them when they were lost in the forest. So this was not so odd a thing for two of God’s creatures to do for the baby son of God. But no one saw it. When Joseph woke up - he had been hearing the rustling and flapping of wings in his sleep and had dreamed about angels - there was only the donkey, the cow, the pony and the ox. Jesus was sound asleep and his body was warm as a candle to Joseph’s touch. Joseph tucked the loose blankets back around his baby boy. Then he found something he could never explain but something Mary kept in a special wooden box all of her life. In one of his tiny hands Jesus clutched a feather. A feather big and soft and long and coloured grey and brown.