It’s that time of year when farmers dress up as shepherds and present their sheep, goats, and oxen in a living Nativity scene. Well, most farmers don’t, but this one does. This tradition began in the year 1223 after Saint Francis of Assisi visited the birthplace of Jesus and was inspired to stage a re-enactment.

Were animals witness to Jesus’ birth? Of course, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus were in the original scene, and the Bible mentions wise men and shepherds, but not donkeys, oxen, cattle, or other animals (according to The birth did take place in a stable, which by definition, is a home for animals, so it’s a good guess animals were looking on.

This year Brookside Congregational Church and Southside Bible Fellowship, both of Manchester, presented a living Nativity complete with Miles Smith Farm calves, goats, a donkey, and a lamb. While the others had participated in previous years, this was the first Nativity for Ferdinand-the-Bull and a heifer named Rain. Both stood as if they’d done it before, and Ferdie even moo’d during the singing.

After the ceremony, the kids got to brush and feed carrots to the animals. While Ferdie enjoyed singing, he loved being brushed while he munched on a carrot. It takes so little to please a cow. A kind word, a little brushing, and a carrot is heaven for a bovine.

As we consult our shopping lists, it can seem that Christmas is all about shopping, but you know it can also be about kindness. Words of encouragement or a gentle pat can be as meaningful as gifts, and they cost nothing as long as those gentle pats are bestowed appropriately.

Let’s take our cue from the animals and show appreciation for each other. I’ve seen a horse lick a steer, and I’ve seen a joyous reunion of two cows that had been separated. Eleanor, the donkey, is attached to the goats Dixie and Pixie, and she brays when they leave the pen. Charlotte, the pig, grunts with pleasure when I rub her belly, and Topper will put his head on my shoulder, asking for a neck scratch.

Of course, if your friends, loved ones, and associates don’t care to have their bellies rubbed, material gifts might be in order. This year rather than give presents from “away,” why not give locally-sourced presents? Many local farms offer gift certificates, so the gift of high-quality food will continue into the new year. Everybody eats.

It’s also easy to forget about books. If you are looking for a locally-authored book, check out the Concord Writer’s Night Out 2019 Anthology. The book might even contain a story written by someone you know and is available on Amazon.

And if your holiday spirit needs a boost, stop by the farm to feed a carrot to Ferdie or Rain. They enjoy holiday food as much as anyone. If you notice a shepherd standing by, well, you know who that is.

Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at