There are plenty of animals in Christmas imagery, whether they’re on the secular side like turkeys, reindeer or robins; or those associated with religious stories, such as camels or donkeys. But what do they all have in common? They’re vertebrates, of course. Aside from the titular cricket in Charles Dickens’s The Cricket On The Hearth (which I’m currently reading and will report on here once I get through it) and the obscure 1913 animated short The Insects’ Christmas, I can’t think of any definitive invertebrate Christmas connections, just tenuous ones, such as the link between ladybirds and Mary the mother of Jesus (who has what you might call a significant role in the Christmas story).
I think it’s time that changed. Our Christmas decorations would be richer and brighter if they incorporated the greater part of the diversity of animal life, and our Christmas stories all the more charming for featuring the delightful lives of invertebrates. Why, for example, is there no children’s story about a moth that’s drawn to the light in a Bethlehem stable? So, here are my themed initial suggestions for a spineless Christmas. I’ll focus on insects, partly because they’re the most diverse, successful and abundant of the terrestrial* invertebrates but mostly because they’re my favourites**, and this is my blog! Of course there aren’t that many obvious insects around in the northern hemisphere winter, but seasonal absence never stopped the turtle dove muscling in on Christmas. It’s time for the insects to have their day in the midwinter sun.
Holly Blue (butterfly)
The holly blue has two generations in a year, the first feeding on holly, the second on ivy. The holly and the ivy. What could be more Christmassy?! Perhaps holly and ivy decorations should feature little models of the caterpillars, and the delicious powder blue of the adults would add another colour to a festive palette that overly relies on red, green, silver and gold.
It flies in December, is cute and fluffy, and looks as though it is wearing a stylish gold-trimmed cloak. December moths would make an obviously appropriate addition to Christmas decoration imagery, with the added bonus of there being a chance of actually seeing one in the Christmas morning light trap. You can even build a folk character around this charming species: I call her ‘Mother Christmas’. Every Christmas Eve she travels the world in an open-top cocoon pulled by moths, wearing a rich black cloak lined with gold scales, bringing entomological treats to all good insect lovers on her list.
The red and gold tinged shining green exoskeleton of Chrysolina graminis would look great recreated in enamel as a tree decoration. Don’t you think? Take note, Buglife merchandising department. And its reappearance in the fens of East Anglia a few years ago was a most Christmassy example of light shining in the darkness. There are innumerable other beetles that would work just as well in Christmas imagery, many of them blessed with a particularly festive iridescence. The tansy beetle has common cousins which are just as attractive, for example, and I can think of a number of ground beetles that would be good choices.
I’m struggling to think of an insect that brings gifts, but you could think of dung beetles as taking away unwanted gifts to the general benefit of all. A dung beetle could symbolise the annual act of gift recycling or ‘regifting’. Say dung beetle and most people would think of the big dung-rolling scarabs of Africa, but we have many wonderful native species in the UK which would be worth highlighting. Onthophagus coenobita with its glittering green thorax would be a fine one to feature.
This one speaks for itself.
If you can think of any existing Christmas insect associations that I’ve overlooked or have suggestions to add to this list, I would very much welcome comments. Ento-ho-ho, Merry Cricket-mas readers!
*A focus on terrestrial environments seems fair. Christmas underwater would be a very different subject!
**Four legs good, six legs and two pairs of wings BETTER.