Winter Animals: Meet 20+ Merry, Magical Christmas Creatures
When the Winter Solstice knocks at the door, we hunker down and prepare for the cold days ahead. As does the wildlife. But before we completely go into hibernation, let’s meet some of the Winter Animals, the magical Christmas creatures that share some of our most beloved Yuletide legends and lore. So even when these mystical creatures are hibernating over the Winter, their spirits are still with us…sharing the very essence of the holiday season.
First, What do we consider Winter Animals?
I’ve noticed quite a few sites stick to one “theme” of Winter Animals. I’m here to tell you, I’m not going to do that. What I consider Winter Animals are animals that are associated with the snow, with ice, or with the season Winter itself. In addition, I’m including Winter Animals from Biblical lore, as well as ancient and Medieval pagan lore. Lastly, I will also be including Christmas creatures from modern times.
Wintry Feathered Friends: Birds of the Winter Skies and Icebergs
Many birds migrate for the Winter. Some stick around the North Pole because it’s their job. ALL are adorable and mystical in their own special ways. Let’s meet the Birds of Winter and Christmas.
1. Robin “Red-Breast”: A Traditional Christmas Animal
The robin is traditionally associated with Christmas and the Winter season throughout Europe and in America. Though the American robin and the European robin are two separate species (though they do share similarities). The Robin is beloved throughout Europe and its symbolic meaning of good luck and rebirth have made it a mainstay in Christmas lore. Since the Sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice, the robin’s representation of rebirth aligns. In addition, the Robin is believed to be a messenger of passed loved ones…often seen around Yuletide (a time when the spiritual veil is thin) to deliver their loving messages.
2. Penguin: Our Icy Wintry Friend
Who doesn’t love the penguin? These feathered friends are completely different than the others for one reason: they don’t fly! But they DO swim and shuffle and glide across the icy plains of Antarctica and the Arctic. Since these Winter birds actually live in the Polar regions on Earth, they are often associated with Winter, Christmas, and all things Yuletide. The penguin is featured in quite a few movies, books, and TV shows with a Winter or holiday feel. Take Topper the Penguin, for example. One of the cutest animals on the classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.
3. The MYSTIC Snowy Owl
Owls are nocturnal creatures which means they thrive at night. They represent wisdom, magic, and protection. As if the owl wasn’t majestic enough, the gods went ahead and made the Snowy Owl and literally made all of our hearts melt. Other names for this white feathered beauty include the Polar Owl and the Arctic Owl. And you can bet if you see one of these guys, you are lucky, because they are rare indeed! Recently I acquired a set of snowy owl Christmas tree ornaments that I absolutely love!
The Cardinal has to be one of the world’s prettiest birds. When seen against a snowy, white background, the cardinal’s red feathers command attention. Remember though, the male cardinal is the one with the really bright feathers. The female (who won’t be far away) has muted maroon and brown feathers in contrast. These birds are frequently seen together, as they are monogamous creatures (some for a year at a time, some for a lifetime). And they are also believed to be messengers from the Spirit World (similar to the Robin) and bring our ancestors’ love to us.
5. Raven, the Yulefather’s Familiar
Sure, Santa is the Big Man on Christmas Day, but did you know there was another head honcho in centuries past? Odin, the Norse Allfather, was honored at the Winter Solstice or Yule in Old Norse times (and still is). He is believed to have been the precursor to the modern Santa. One of his epithets was Jolfather (Yule Father), he flew through the Winter skies on his eight-legged steed Sleipnir (think of Santa’s eight reindeer), and granted blessings to those who honored him. Odin has quite a few sacred animals in his horde, but the Raven is at the forefront. His two ravens, to be exact, are called Huginn (thought) and Munnin (memory). Therefore, you might see the Raven being represented in pagan Yuletide art and lore.
6. And a Partridge in a Pear Tree
One of my favorite Christmas songs is the Twelve Days of Christmas. Its just so reminiscent of times passed. And from this old ditty, we get our next Winter Animal – the partridge. Another feathered friend who has come to be part of Christmas lore and likely will stay part of it for years to come. But what is a partridge, exactly? A partridge is found throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, is a medium-sized game bird. And get this…many have GREEN feathers and RED legs. I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with feathery Christmas cheer.
7. Two Turtle Doves
And we’re continuing the Twelve Days of Christmas animal party with the Turtle Dove as our next Christmas animal. On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Because of this classic holiday song, turtle doves are part of Christmas tradition. According to Christian tradition, the two turtle doves represented the Old and New Testaments. Plus doves are featured a few times in the Holy Bible and are considered a symbol of affection.
8. Wren: The Beloved Christmas Bird of Ireland
Wren Day on December 26th is a holiday celebrated in Ireland and on the Isle of Man. It was likely celebrated in Britain and in other countries in Europe in older times. On the Isle of Man, Wren Day is celebrated by the “Hunting of the Wren”, which is more of a parade or procession of dancers and musicians than it is a hunt. This tradition dates back centuries and likely thousands of years to ancient Celtic times. The Wren is much beloved in these countries and associated with Christmas for this reason.
Christmas Creatures from the Snowy Woodlands
While many animals are hibernating during Christmas, we still get small, magical glimpses of wildlife from time to time. And especially in our beloved stories, movies, and plays. Here are some of our favorite Christmas Animals from the woodlands.
I don’t know when the Stag became such a popular animal in legend and lore, but I’m betting it was in ancient times. The Hunting of the White Stag is an ancient ritual in Celtic lore in which whomever caught the white stag would be king and would prosper. White animals, in general, have long been linked to the fairy world. In recent years, the Stag is taking a precedence in Christmas decor…a nod to the older ways of pagan Yuletide and the wild woods.
10. Wolf: Christmas Werewolves and the Devil?
The Wolf is an interesting Christmas animal for a few reasons. A. the white wolf is sometimes featured in Winter and Christmas decor. And B. it’s history is intertwined with Christmas, it’s just that most people wouldn’t realize it. In a sixteenth century Catholic Spanish poem, a lamb is featured and represents the Virgin Mother Mary. While the wolf’s character is a shoe-in for the Devil himself. In addition, old Medieval lore claimed that a child born near or ON Christmas Day was more likely to become a werewolf. My honest opinion? The white wolf represents Winter and therefore should be exonerated of its old reputation and added to MORE Yuletide decor and literature!
11. Arctic Fox: The Furriest, Cutest Christmas Animal There Is!
I can’t help it. I’m partial to the Arctic Fox. In fact, I think he is the cutest of all the Christmas and Winter animals on this list! Also known as the Snow Fox or Polar Fox, this fuzzy little predator occupies some of the coldest places on earth and doesn’t even start shivering until it’s nearly one hundred degrees below fahrenheit! Another cute fact about this Winter animal: during the mating season, they are monogamous and choose one mate with whom to raise their pups. The fox, in general, has been making its way into modern Christmas decor and stories. And we hope it continues!
12. Snowshoe Hare
The hare has been linked to witches for centuries, both in Europe and in North America. People once believed that witches shapeshifted into hares. There are many folk tales illustrating this concept. The snowshoe hare is a Winter animal merely because of its name and the fact that its fur turns white in the cold season. Bottom line…rabbits and hares are magical creatures. And when added to the Christmas animal lineup, their whimsical nature rubs off on the others!
13. The Christmas Mouse
Ever heard of a little ballet called The Nutcracker? Secretly, I always rooted for the Mouse King to win. The mouse, also growing in Christmas decor popularity, has its roots in the Christmases of the past. In addition to The Nutcracker’s Mouse King, this tiny creature is in the second line of Twas the Night Before Christmas and is the feature character of The Christmas Mouse. But the Christmas mouse is found in places throughout the world, including in Norway, Sweden, and France.
14. Santa’s Reindeer
I don’t think there’s another animal in modern Christmas history that’s as prominent and beloved as the reindeer. Besides the elves, who helps Santa Claus carry on the spirit of Christmas? Santa’s Reindeer! Rudolph, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen. Reindeer, also called Caribou, are a species of deer native to the Arctic and subarctic areas of Northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. There is some speculation that Santa’s eight reindeer originate in Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir. However they got their Wintry start, they aren’t going away any time soon.
15. The Yule Boar
Every year on Christmas Eve, my family and I sit down to a delicious Christmas ham. This is a tradition that’s shared among many American and Northern European families. There is a theory that this tradition is carried on from ancient times, when the Norse sacrificed the Yule Boar to the god Freyr during the Winter Nights. From the Sagas:
“And they would sacrifice a boar in the sonarblót. On Yule Eve the sonar-boar was led into the hall before the king; then people laid their hands on its bristles and made vows.”
While this theory makes sense to me, there are scholars who disbelieve it. Either way, we can say the Boar is indeed a Christmas animal because of its ancient association to the pagan Yule festival. So go get you that Honey Baked Ham, y’all!
Down On the Farm Yuletide Animals
Christmas is downright cozy when its down on the farm. And so are these Yuletide farm animals!
We have to give an honorable mention to the Horse. Horses are the leaders of horse-drawn carriages, obviously, and are mentioned frequently in Christmas carols and stories. For example in Jingle Bells, “dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh”. And who could forget the cheery horse sounds we hear in Sleigh Ride? On the creepier side of Christmas, the Mari Lwyd of Welsh Christmas tradition is disturbing to some. Yet its popularity is growing in modern times. What is it, you ask? The Mari Lwyd is the skull of a horse that’s put on a stick and paraded around town, singing carols and asking for entrance into people’s homes. Upon giving admittance, they would be fed with food and ale.
17. The Yule Goat
The Yule Goat, aka the Julbocken, is a Northern European Christmas tradition dating back to ancient pagan festivals. A sacrifice of a goat was made during the Winter Solstice in the name of the god Njord. Though some speculate the Yule Goat actually originates with the worship of the Norse god Thor, since his sacred animal was the goat. Today, no goat sacrifices are being made but the Yule Goat tradition continues in the form of straw-made ornaments and effigies.
18. The Yule Cat
In our recent article Gryla the Christmas Witch, the Yule Lads, and Yule Cat, we are introduced to the terrifying feline of Icelandic lore. Otherwise known as the Jolakotturinn or Yule Cat. He is not cute. He is not fluffy. And he will gobble up any of those who aren’t wearing new clothes on Christmas OR who have misbehaved during the year! On a softer note, in the U.S. kittens are frequently given as gifts during the holiday season. And in Netflix’s Christmas Chronicles 2, we get an animated glimpse of the Yule Cat at the North Pole.
19. The Shepherds and their Sheep
Because of the biblical reference to shepherds and their sheep, the sheep have been a common part of the nativity scene for centuries. From Luke Chapter 2 of the New Testament:
“The angels left and the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem. They found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. The shepherds returned, praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
20. The Christmas Rooster
Yes, believe it or not the rooster is considered a Christmas animal in Spanish and Latin American communities. In Roman Catholic lore, the rooster crowed at midnight to announce Jesus’ birth. For this reason, Roman Catholics in these communities call their midnight mass the “Misa de Gallo” or Rooster Mass.
Other Animals Linked to Christmas Around the World
There are other animals around the world that remind us of the spirit of Christmas. We may not mention every single one on our list but we did try our best. Here are a few more:
21. The Camel
This might seem unorthodox or strange to some, but the camel is considered a Christmas animal because of the story of the birth of Jesus. The wisemen who came to Jesus bearing gifts are often depicted as riding camels.
22. The Yule Dragon
You’re probably thinking, what does a dragon have to do with Christmas? In recent years, there have been an explosion of Christmas floats for front yards in America. I know this because we purchased one. He is a large red and green dragon with an elven hat and he holds a present between his paws. I hope the dragon becomes a true Christmas tradition…because, well, dragons are just AWESOME.
Apparently there’s this thing in Australia…that instead of reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, maybe it’s actually kangaroos? Yes, it’s truly a thing down under! Move over Comet, here comes Joey!