The 12 Animals of Christmas From Around the World – December 2022

Written by Heather Hall                   Updated: September 22, 2022

Key Points

  • Christmas animals have attained their status owing to different reasons: the seasons we associate them with, royal influence, or religious traditions.
  • They have different purposes too: some serve to herald the season, others as mascots for the winter holiday, while others yet are given a starring role at the festive table.
  • Animals often represent important cultural references and it’s no different for Christmas, an especially loved holiday around the globe.

Celebrated around the world come winter, Christmas is many things to different cultures. But beneath the differences, there’s the universal need to share and acknowledge the most wondrous things that we have: family, faith, children, and love.

There are a variety of Christmas animals we associate with as symbols of the most wonderful time of the year. Come the winter holiday, these creatures are on tv, under the tree, in the movies, on holiday cards, in decorations, and in pictures.

Here are a dozen of the feathered or furry friends we love during that joyous December holiday of remembrance.

#12. Penguins

As we dream of a snowy Christmas, we’re reminded of the cold climates in which penguins live. fieldwork/

Penguins are all over the holiday. The truth is we only tie the cute, flightless bird with Christmas because they live in cold climates. Some species, like the Gentoochinstrap, and emperor penguin, actually live in warmer climates.

Here’s the irony: We link penguins and Christmas because of the North Pole. Penguins actually reside in the icy environments of Antarctica, its neighboring continents, and the South (not North!) Pole.

Though we almost always see them on land, penguins spend the majority of their lives in water and do a ton of hunting below ocean surfaces.

#11. Robins

The theory of robins delivering mail during the holidays was brought about by this bright-chested bird being spotted by postmen.
Vishnevskiy Vasily/

Throughout the English winter, the robin is a treasure. Once upon a day, Victorian postmen had the nickname “robin,” noted for their bright red jackets. The sight prompted a series of images of red-breasted birds delivering mail during the holidays.

American robins are also familiar sights. They are often tugging at earthworms. The bird’s famous for its cheery singing and brightly colored chest.

The robin makes its first appearance near the end of the winter. They’re noted for being the first to start the day singing and the last to stop at the day’s end.

#10. Camels

Perhaps the original Christmas Animal — camels make us think of the three kings in Bethlehem.
Dudarev Mikhail/

Yes, they’re out there in the desert but there is no more famous Christmas symbol than the three kings reaching Bethlehem on these beasts. The image is synonymous with the Christmas holiday.

Interestingly, the Bible makes no mention of camels. The book speaks of wise magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, but not of how they made the trip.

Camels are tough creatures with two rows of eyelashes and three sets of eyelids. The setup prevents sand from getting in their eyes. Their lips let them forage thorny plants other creatures can’t eat. Thick pads of skin allow them to be comfortable in extremely hot sand.

Camels can go great distances without water. But when they find it, they’re capable of consuming 40 gallons.

While having decent temperaments, an angry camel will spit at you if they sense a threat.

#9. Turkeys

Turkey was made a Christmas dinner staple by Henry VIII.
Tory Kallman/

Until the 16th century, the golden bird for Christmas dinner was actually a goose.

Today, American culture associates turkey with Thanksgiving and Christmas via settlers and natives who dined together. But Christmas turkey goes back to Henry VIII who personally made the bird a staple. It’s rumored Queen Victoria reopening trade with the U.S. and importing turkeys influenced the traditional holiday dinner.

The English sovereigns were by no means the only historical figures enamored with the large clucking avian.
A popular myth about Benjamin Franklin has it that he considered the turkey a bird of courage (albeit, slightly vain and silly). The first President of Pennsylvania was also convinced the avian was actually quite capable of taking on enemy soldiers trespassing on its farm!

Turkeys classify as Galliformes. The family includes a set of ground-feeding, heavy birds like pheasantschickens, and grouse.

Roaming in the millions, turkeys are in every state of the country except Alaska. Most turkeys are wild, feeding on insects, seeds, lizards, and frogs.

#8. Polar Bears

Snowy white polar bears are associated with Christmas thanks to their acclimation to the wintery weather. Vaclav Sebek/

Polar bears, like penguins, have become symbols of the winter holiday only because of their proximity to snow and cold. But like the penguin, polar bears are not found in the North Pole. They live in the Arctic and Canada.

The polar bear’s white coat is a gift from Mother Nature. It allows the animals to hide in their environments, where they often are mistaken for snowdrifts.

#7. Partridges

Partridges, in fact, are not found in pear trees.

Partridges are not found in pear trees. They’re ground birds. But thanks to that repetitious lyric in “12 Days of Christmas,” these animals are one of Christmas’s favorite creatures.

Partridges are relatives of the pheasant and traditional game in England. It’s believed the cute partridge referred to in the Christmas carol is a grey or English partridge.

Partridges have a light-colored plumage. Their bodies are chicken-like, but plumper with small heads. The partridge weighs less than a pound and measures about a foot in length.

#6. Turtle Doves

Turtle doves are associated with Christmas thanks to the infamous song, “12 Days of Christmas.” petritzaa/

Two turtle doves make for a perfect image as these birds form strong bonds. They’re known for life-long relationships of love, devotion, and friendship.

Turtle doves are vibrant animals with a charming call. In the United Kingdom, the birds feed mostly in arable and mixed farmland. Their diet is crop grains and wildflower seeds left on the ground. They roost and nest near feeding spots, usually on open woodland edges, scrub and hedgerow areas.

#5. Sheep

Sheep are widely known for their role in Christmas because of their association with the Christian faith. Paul Steven/

You won’t find a Nativity scene without a sheep somewhere in the vicinity. Sheep play a vital role in the Christian faith. So, it’s not surprising they’re in the manger. The creatures are mostly docile and defenseless, famous for their gentleness.

Sheep share a family with cattle, antelopesgoats, and muskoxen, all mammals of cloven hooves. Many sheep have curling horns and all have wooly exteriors.

With all due respect to man’s best friend, the sheep are among the first domesticated creatures. There are wild sheep across the globe, particularly in Central EuropeNorth AmericaAsia, and the Middle East.

Unsettling fact: if a sheep ends up on its back it could die. They are not adept at getting back up without aid. This happens often with pregnant ewes and sheep with full fleeces.

#4. Reindeer

The reindeer is an iconic Christmas animal brought about from the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”

There is no animal more representative of Christmas than the trusty reindeer.

The root of the image of Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer comes out of “The Night Before Christmas.” It’s commonly believed the first symbols of flying reindeer helping St. Nick appear here. Others, however, joke that reindeer got associated with flying because they tend to partake of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

North America is the only segment of the world where reindeer have a different name and that’s Caribou. In most deer species, only males grow antlers. With reindeer, both sexes have antlers. Reindeer are nomads, rarely staying in one place for long. They have layered coats that keep them cozy in the chilliest temps.

#3. Donkeys

The donkey gets its association with Christmas because of its ties to the Christian faith. Angyalosi Beata/

There’s no mention of how Mary made the 80-mile trek to Bethlehem but it was most likely on the back of a donkey. Donkeys often show up in manger scenes which reinforces the idea. These pack mules were the usual transport for the poor. Camels were for the elite. Horses were war animals or used by the wealthy.

Donkeys are everywhere and members of the family include zebras and horses. The donkey has floppy, long ears and is more likely to be stockier. You have donkeys that are feral, wild, and domesticated.

#2. Kangaroos

Australians believe that kangaroos pull Santa’s sleigh, not reindeer.

In Australia, the legend is kangaroos, not reindeer, pull Santa’s sleigh. On the ground, the marsupials can hit 35 miles per hour. They also have the ability to leap 25 feet in the air. So, if they could fly, it’d be impressive.

These animals travel in groups we call mobs. The size fluctuates based on the season and the availability of water and food. And, of course, the kangaroo has the famous pouch. It’s guessed considering how fast these animals move (20 feet in a single bound; up to 50 miles per; 9 feet high), a passenger is going for a jarring ride.

Their leaps aren’t always spot-on. The kangaroo gets caught trying to leap over fences when they don’t come at the leap straight on.

#1. Dogs

From Santa Paws to the pup in The Grinch, dogs are an essential part of the Christmas movie line-up. Rita_Kochmarjova/

The dog is easily the most popular animal in the world and, if they have a social temperament, doggies thrive on the festivities and chaos of Christmas.

Where the link between dogs and Christmas started seems to have no real origin story but there’s no doubt we love the idea of cute canines and Christmas. There are more Christmas movies centered around dogs than you can shake a dog tail at. Families love putting their pooches up in holiday outfits and including them in the holiday photo. One of the most popular gifts during the winter holiday is puppies.

It’s also a risky season. So many of the foods we feast on can be a threat to doggy health. While your beloved pet can chow down on turkey and cheese, keep them away from chocolate, nuts, onions, raisins, and Christmas pudding.

Your dog is a great friend and companion and a lot of its joy come through its owners. They feed on your feelings and it is probably why dogs love sharing Christmas with you!


4ReindeerAmerica, Europe
6Turtle DovesEurope
8Polar BearsCanada
9TurkeysAmerica, Europe
11RobinsAmerica, Europe


End of Article


Allyson D. Brown

A West African dwarf goat
A West African dwarf goat

West African Dwarf

Also Known By: African Dwarf, Djallonke, Dwarf West African, Forest goat, Fouta Djallon, Grassland Dwarf, Chevre naine de Savanes, Guinean, Guinean Dwarf, Pygmy, Tibetana, Cameroon Dwarf, Chevre de Casamance, Diougry, Chevre naine de l’est, Kosi, Nigerian Dwarf

A numerous breed found on the coast of west and central Africa. Found in all colors the West African Dwarf is trypanotolerant. The African Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf in the United States, the Dutch Dwarf and the Pygmy breed in Great Britain all originated from the West African Dwarf.

Breeds of Livestock

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Local African Chicken
Liberian Chicken Gravy


Local Chicken Breeds of Africa:

Their Description, Uses and Conservation Methods

Simple Summary

In African countries, there has been little effort to conserve the local chicken breeds or lines. These chickens are hardy and provide a valuable protein source to rural households. Even though these chickens are resistant to disease, they are associated with low productivity. However, any improvement in the productivity of local chickens would require close attention to nutritional, breeding and health aspects. Therefore, the main purpose of this review is to provide a detailed understanding on description, uses and conservation methods of local chicken breeds of Africa. In conclusion, this review will highlight information for stakeholders to enable them to make informed decisions on local chicken breed diversification, conservation, and improved production through efficient management, breeding, and nutrition practices.

1. Introduction

Indigenous chickens (Gallus domesticus) are chickens that are adapted to harsh environmental conditions that include extensive small-scale village, free-range and organic production systems. Sometimes such chickens are referred to as traditional, scavenging, backyard, village, local or family chickens [1]. In this review, the term local chickens is used. The local chicken production system, which is mostly free-range (extensive), can best be described as a low input−low output system. The variations in local chickens mostly comprise plumage colour, body size, feather patterns, comb types and shank colour. In literature, local chicken populations are often described and grouped according to geographical location or phenotypic characteristics, while their classification into breeds or types is limited. Only a few of them have been classified into ecospecies based on their characteristics.

Throughout the world, numerous indigenous or local chickens have been reported. Naked neck chickens with normal frizzle feathers are reported to be found in Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Southern Africa as explained by Adelake et al. [2]. Whereas large Baladi and Betwil have been reported by Mohammed et al. [3] as local chickens in Sudan. Venda, Koekoek and Ovambo chickens have been described as dominant local chickens with Ovambo originating from northern part of Namibia [4]. According to Alewi et al. [5] the local Kei (a red plumage chicken) in Ethiopia is known as the main local chicken breed. Local or indigenous chickens are more abundant mostly in developing and underdeveloped countries than those that are already developed.

Numerous studies have shown that local chickens play a key role in improving the socio-economic status of many rural communities. However, poor housing, lack of coordinated disease control mechanisms, poor feeding and the absence of conservation strategies are some of the challenges facing local chicken production systems in Africa [6]. Parasitism in the intestines of local chickens is another problem and results in low weight gain and poor carcass quality [7]. Distance to the nearest market, access to extension services, feed costs, market price and the education level and experience of farmers are further factors that can affect the profitability of local chicken rearing [8,9]. Despite these challenges, local chickens are a source of income and protein to resource-limited local marginal communities in developing countries. Local chickens are preferred over exotic chicken breeds because of their succulent meat. They also sell at a cheaper price [10,11]. Hence, the demand for local chicken products (eggs and meat) is high. It is estimated that local chickens constitute 80% of poultry production in sub-Saharan countries [12], with Nigeria known to have the highest number of local chickens with an estimated population of 180 million [13]. Though these figures demonstrate the necessity to increase the production of poultry [14], the quantity and quality of the product are yet to improve [10].

The flock size of and mortality rate among local chickens in African countries vary. In Southern Africa, different studies have reported mean flock sizes of 12.9 to 29.98 chickens per household [15,16], while mortality among local chickens in, for example, Namibia is estimated at 42.2%, which is the highest mortality rate in southern African countries [17]. Several reasons have been put forward for this, which include mismanagement, malnutrition, diseases, and predation [16]. Thus, flock size is mainly affected by predation, diseases, and theft [18]. As for their production quality, local chickens can lay 20 to 80 eggs per year, which is very low compared with commercial breeds that can lay up to 300 eggs per year. Nutritional deficiency and low genetic potential are some of the factors influencing the low production of eggs [13]. Hence, genetic material must be improved to enhance productive efficiency [19,20].

Overall, local chicken farming in southern African countries remains at a developing stage [10]. A case in point is Zambia, where only 0.5% of the total local chicken population reaches the commercial market, with the majority being consumed within a household [21,22]. Thus, regardless of their importance, local chickens have received little attention in terms of improving their production rates [23]. Many researchers from African countries have addressed the challenges related to improved nutritional management and genetic upgradation of local chicken, but there is limited information on how improvement at these levels can enhance performance [18]. According to a study conducted by Badubi et al. [24], the local chickens of Botswana are considered to be bigger than the local chickens of other African states. Nthimo et al. [25] conducted another comparison study and found that Lesotho’s local chickens are the poorest performers in all production traits compared with other southern African indigenous bloodlines. The factors that contribute to this poor performance are complex, but their nutritional and genetic development appear to be areas that can be explored and should, therefore, be a priority. Therefore, conservation decision-making should look at traits of scientific or economic importance, adaptation to a specific environment, the historical or cultural importance of the species and the degree of extinction [26]. Whether the process of conservation should be carried out within (in-situ) or away (ex-situ) from natural habitats would depend on the conservation objectives. Therefore, the objective of this review is to collate current information on the description of indigenous chickens of Africa and current conservation strategies with a view to highlight improvement at their nutritional and genetic levels of performance.

To read the complete article please see the information below.

Tlou Grace Manyelo,1,2 Letlhogonolo Selaledi,1,3 Zahra Mohammed Hassan,1 and Monnye Mabelebele1,*

Articles from Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI are provided here courtesy of Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI)

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