A Special Delivery
At this time of year, when the sun is low in the sky, our stork stands tall and proud amidst the bare trees, illuminated by a lovely warm golden light. At this time of year, when my thoughts are focused on the delivery of the Christ child, if I let my imagination out of the box, I begin to wonder if perhaps this stork is resting, having successfully accomplished another mission. Did the stork know the importance of this delivery?
The origins of the association between storks and babies are hard to trace. Is part of folklore on several continents.
"The birds are big and white — linked to purity… their good parenting behaviour is highly evident," writes Rachel Warren Chadd, Birds: Myth, Lore, and Legend.
Many popular accounts trace the myth back to ancient Greece and the story of a vengeful goddess named Hera. According to this story, Hera grew jealous of a beautiful queen named Gerana and transformed her into a stork. The heartbroken Gerana then sought to retrieve her child from Hera's clutches, and the Greeks depicted the transformed bird with a baby dangling from its beak. However, the original myth describes the baby-snatching bird as a crane, not a stork. Similarly, in Egyptian mythology, that legendary creature was a heron. Other researchers have suggested that there has been conflation of the stork with the pelican as European medieval literature associates the stately white pelican with Catholicism, rebirth, and the rearing of young.
During the Pagan era, couples would wed during the annual summer solstice, when storks would commence their annual migration, from Europe to Africa. The birds would then return exactly nine months later. Thus, storks became the heralds of new life, spawning the fanciful idea that they had delivered the human babies.
As the story evolved over time, its complexity grew. In the 19th century, the myth gained new traction when it was popularized by Hans Christian Andersen who wrote a tale where, these birds plucked dreaming babies from ponds and lakes, and delivered them to deserving families. The story had a dark underside, however: Families with ill-behaved children would receive a dead baby as punishment from the stork.
In Victorian England, the story became a way of obscuring the realities of sex and birth. For Victorians embarrassed about explaining the facts of life, the stork bringing a baby was a useful image.
There are no mention of storks at the birth of Jesus as described in the bible, and the associated nativity stories and traditions, so perhaps this concrete bird had nothing to do with the incarnation after all. However, our tendency to humanize animals has made the baby-delivering stork one of our most enduring myths, perhaps loosely based on the birds' behaviour but also rooted in human hopes and fears.
The birth of Jesus Christ has brought all the hopes and fears of humanity together in God’s plan for our salvation. This Christmastide we can ask and allow God to overcome our fears with hope. Not the hope of, “I hope so,” but the certain hope of “I know so.”