“Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey,” by Robert Byrd.
Dutton Children’s Books, New York, 2000, 32 pages, K-3.
Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved saints in the Catholic Church. St. Francis loved nature, birds and animals. His care was so strong that he is said to have preached to them.
Modern environmental movements have sometimes adopted St. Francis as a sort of patron saint.This is a misreading of founder of the Franciscans. While it is true that St. Francis had a deep love for nature and the creatures on earth, he loved them because they were a reflection of God’s love and magnificence. He didn’t see plants and animals having equal rights with people.
But Francis’s care for the birds and animals on the earth have led to many stories about his relationships with them. Robert Byrd has written a charming story about St. Francis’s love for a donkey. The name of this tale is “Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey.”
One day, St. Francis is walking in the woods with groups of birds and animals following behind. Suddenly, they hear the angry braying of a donkey. Surprised, they stop while St. Francis asks the donkey what has happened. The donkey tells St. Francis that he is tired of doing all the hard work in the world and not getting any thanks. This is unfair and needs to stop.
Consoling the donkey, the holy man begins telling the animal why donkeys have problems. After the Lord made all the animals, God was especially happy with the donkeys. However, due to their prancing steps, delicate ears and small tail, the donkeys became proud and looked down on the other animals of creation. This led to the donkeys being attacked by other animals to make them humble. The monkeys pulled on the donkeys’ ears while chimpanzees pulled their tails. This resulted in donkeys having long ears and scrawny tails. But since the donkeys were still proud, God changed their voice until they could only say “hee haw.” After this they were made beasts of burden.
This explanation does little to please the complaining donkey. So St. Francis tells him the rest of the story. When Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the whole world, St. Joseph led a donkey carrying the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem. The trip was so difficult for the donkey to complete that he needed all the stubbornness and determination he could muster to get to Bethlehem. Finally, they arrived at a stable. As St. Joseph tried to help his family, Our Lady gave birth to Jesus. There in the cold, the Christ Child received many gifts. One special one was from the donkey. What was it?
What does the donkey give to the Baby Jesus? Have you ever seen a nativity display or crèche? What animals are closest to the Holy Family? How does St. Francis show the donkey that all the traits people make fun of in him are actually gifts from God to help everyone? What can we all learn from the gentle monk from Assisi? To find out, go to the library and check out “Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey” by Robert Byrd.
This is a delightful book to read. Saint Francis is presented as a man filled with charity and love. He teaches the donkey many important things about life and the difficulties we all encounter. The pictures are consoling and lovely. I hope you get a chance to check out this beautiful story and read it with you family. After reading it, I felt like I had sampled a delicious dessert. I hope you do as well. Enjoy!