Of all the children’s Christmas specials that were produced for television in the 1960s and still repeated every year (think Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town…) there is one that I watched when I was a kid but you never see anymore. It was called The Night the Animals Talked. Do you remember this one?
This show made its debut in 1970 and was on each year through 1973. It made a “magical” reappearance in 1977 and that was it. Now only bootleg copies are available and, of course, it’s on YouTube.
The plot focuses on the barn animals in the stable in Bethlehem who, when the light of the Bethlehem Star shines upon them, are able to talk (a pretty cool idea when you’re a kid!).
Actually, it turns out to be not so cool because the animals use their newfound speaking ability to begin arguing with each other and competing with each other. There are two hogs that aren’t even allowed into the stable at all. The leader of the animals, an ox, is angered by this behavior because it makes the animals “no better than humans.”
Certainly, there is a good deal of social commentary in this cartoon. The links to racism and segregation and vanity are pretty obvious; especially when the animals initially block Mary and Joseph from entering the stable because, well, they’re humans after all.
When Jesus is born, it changes everything of course. Everyone is overwhelmed with joy and love. Even the hogs are allowed in! After they lose the ability to talk, the animals maintain their newfound respect for one another.
It may be because the production quality and animation of The Night the Animals Talked is, in all honesty, pretty awful that it didn’t achieve the same cult status as the other Christmas specials. Nevertheless, its underlying message is one that is needed now more than ever: The bitterness and cruelty of humanity can leave us lower than animals, but the miracle of the incarnation gives us the opportunity to live in an entirely different way; a way hallmarked by love, equality, and mutual respect.
See you in church,