The Christmas bird

A robin in the snow

The popular image of a robin in the snow - the bird became forever associated with Christmas - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Christmas has definitely come early to the Bay. After such a truly horrendous year, people obviously decided to cheer themselves up and, in numerous homes from Brixham to Torquay, the tree, twinkling lights and decorations were all up by late November!

A very popular image of this festive period, and one that often features heavily on our Christmas cards and decorations is, of course, the cheeky little Robin redbreast.

The Robin, is a resident species here in the UK, toughing out the very worst of the weather alongside us, instead of - wisely - fleeing our shores for warmer climes.

And this stoicism does make it extremely vulnerable. Its numbers were much-reduced by the severe winter of 1963, although they soon recovered; this is a species that is a true friend of man - as any keen gardener will testify - and it much appreciates supplementary feeding throughout the cold winter months.

But why is this gorgeous little bird so closely associated with Christmas?

There are two possible explanations. One is an old legend that states that the Robin gained his iconic red breast through plucking out a thorn from Christ’s temple as he was on the road to his crucifixion at Calvary. It is said that a drop of His blood fell onto the little bird’s breast, staining it forever red.

Another possible reason goes back to Victorian times. The sending of cards began in earnest in the 1840’s, and these were delivered by Royal Mail postmen who wore bright red coats and were nicknamed by the general populace ‘robins’ or ‘redbreasts’.

Most Read

Soon artists of the period began illustrating the early Christmas cards with images of these human 'redbreasts' delivering the eagerly anticipated cards, often battling through a snowy landscape.

Eventually the sentimental Victorian artists replaced the postie with the more popular image of a Robin in the snow, and the bird became forever associated with Christmas.

So, when you are making that last minute dash to the shops, do keep the little ‘Christmas Bird’ in mind and maybe buy him a festive treat of some suet balls (to crumble on the bird table) or his extra-special favourite – dried meal worms!