COMMON CUSTOMS OBSERVED IN DEVONSHIRE ON CHRISTMAS EVE. —
A superstitious notion prevails, in the western parts of Devonshire, that at twelve o’clock at night, on Christmas Eve, the oxen in their stalls are always found on their knees, in an attitude of devotion; and that (which is still more singular), since the alteration of the style, they contrive to do this only on the Eve of old Christmas Day.
An honest countryman, living on the edge of St. Stephen’s Downs, near Launceston, Cornwall, informed me, October 28th, 1790, that he once, with some others, made a trial of the truth of the above, and watching several oxen in their stalls at the above time, at twelve o’clock at night, they observed the two oldest oxen only fall upon their knees, and, as he expressed it in the idiom of the country, make ” a cruel moan, like Christian creatures ;”
I could not but with great difficulty keep my countenance : he saw, and seemed angry that I gave so little credit to his tale, and, walking off in a pettish humour, seemed to “marvel at my unbelief.”
There is an old print of the Nativity, in which the oxen in the stable, near the Virgin and Child, are represented upon their knees, as in a suppliant posture. This graphic representation has probably given rise to the above superstitious notion on this head.