The Nativity Story from a Cat’s Viewpoint

(For this blog post I welcome guest blogger, TeddyBoy Sinclair, my tuxedo cat, who will set the record straight on a number of misconceptions about Christmas.)

Around this time each year (winter), humans like to retell a story about an  infant born in a stable on a pile of straw surrounded by cows, horses, and donkeys in some far off country.  And today humans celebrate this event with food, gifts that sparkle, lights that pierce the darkness, and other stuff.  They call it, “Christmas,” and it supposedly celebrates the birth of this human child, named Jesus.

This story was published in a book, called the Bible, and the authors left out some very important details, plus they got the date wrong.   I feel it’s my job to set the record straight.

First off, it was some of my feline ancestors, the stable cats,  who helped keep the baby Jesus warm.  Forget the donkeys, goats, and sheep who were all too self-absorbed in eating and too big to cuddle with a baby in a manger.  It was the kitty cats that kept him warm–and even played with him.

Another omission from the baby Jesus story includes the gifts that the cats gave to the baby, and his parents, Mary and Joseph. A whole lot of hullabaloo has been paid to three wise men who traveled some distance to bring gifts of gold, myrrha and frankensence (obviously, they forgot the catnip) to the new baby.  But it was the stable cats who caught some mice and presented these rodents as gifts to his parents so they wouldn’t starve.  As far as I know you can’t eat gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Cats also played a very important role in helping the parents escape the edict of baby-killer Herod, who ordered the death of every child in Bethlehem under the age of two.  The 3 wise men apparently spilled the beans when they asked for directions from Herod’s court to visit a child who would one day be king and wanted to pay him homage.  Herod was very threatened by this future king  (he  apparently had Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and issued this order of murder for all young human lads of a certain age.    The cats warned the parents about Herod’s evil intentions and guided the parents to safety along a secret trail known only to felines.

And allow me to correct one chronological mistake.   The baby Jesus was most likely born in the spring, not in December, so it’s unclear why his birthday is celebrated December 25.  But hey, December 25 is a pagan holiday where there used to be lots of drinking, and wild dancing to chase the winter chill away, so why not celebrate a cute baby’s birth during this day.  But for the record, the humans got the date wrong.

So humans, celebrate this December 25 holiday by spending time with your loved ones (both animal and human), eating good food, drinking, dancing,  singing, and a warm fire (except in California where you should celebrate by embracing water).

Celebrate the winter darkness  which will bring back the longer days of light.  For without the darkness, we cannot fully appreciate the light.


Books and Cats (Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage)

Cats got their literary start in the scriptoriums of medieval monasteries.  This relationship can be traced back to an 8th or 9th century poem, Pangur Ban (which means white cat).   Supposedly written by an Irish Benedictine monk who worked in the scriptorium of Reichenau Abbey, a German abbey on an island of the same name, the author compares his scholarly pursuits with the cat’s activities of chasing mice.

“I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.”

That monks and cats formed close bonds should come as no surprise.  Mice and rats lived in the scriptoriums feasting on the precious, hand-copied manuscripts.  Cats, on the other hand, feasted on the rodents.  Scriptoriums were also solitary places, so this companionship between kitties and monks made a whole lot of sense even though monks ran the risk of kitties stepping in the ink jars and walking across the manuscript leaving their paw prints.  Proof of ink-soaked paws are shown in the illustration (right), a medieval manuscript that a researcher recently discovered when going through manuscripts in Dubrovnik, Croatia.     This habit exists to this day and age:  cats now walk across the computer keyboard.

Many 20th century writers turned to cats as their favorite muse.  Ernest Hemingway was famous for his numerous polydactyl cats, the descendants of which exist to this day at his house/museum in Florida.  Poets William Carlos Williams and Randall Jarrell (“The cat’s asleep; I whisper “kitten” Till he stirs a little and begins to purr–) kept cats,  as did the existentialists, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.  (It looks like the kitty is dictating to Sartre the copy of Being and Nothingness, which Sartre claimed to have authored).   The beat writer, Jack Kerouac, adored his ginger Persian, “Tyke,” and compared the death of Tyke to the death of his little brother.   William Burroughs had cats all his life and seemed to love them as much as he loved illicit drugs.

Mark Twain qualifies as perhaps the most famous writer/cat-lover.    He considered cats superior to humans (“If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”  – Notebook, 1894) and owned cats all his life.

Cats even played a role in the writing of his classic, “Huck Finn.”  Twain began writing the novel in the summer of 1876 in a small study filled with cats, in Elmira, New York.  

A 1905 Washington Post article described Twain’s huge bed, where he spent a good deal of time writing.  The reporter enumerates the various items on the bed;  the books, writing materials, clothes and numerous other objects (“enough to furnish a Harlem flat”).

The reporter continues:    “He looks quite happy rising out of the mass, and over all prowls a huge black cat of a very unhappy disposition.  She snaps, snarls and claws and bites, and Mark Twain takes his turn with the rest;  when she gets tired of tearing up manuscripts, she scratches him and he bears with a patience wonderful to behold.”  –interview subtitled “Mark Twain’s Bed,” Washington Post, March 26, 1905, page F12

The most absurd thing in life is how much pleasure I get from TeddyBoy (my cat pictured in top photo).  The second most absurd thing is how I lay the burden of muse on TeddyBoy’s furry shoulders, and how well he seems to bear it with nary a care in the world.