May you never be too old to believe in the magic of Christmas

Whatever our beliefs, there’s something wondrous about the Christmas story along with all the similar tales, celebrations and honourings that take place around the world. Whether it’s the magic of storytelling or the power and affirmation of religious faith, healing is at the heart of it all.

Animals in the Nativity

Animals are traditionally central to the Nativity as witnesses to the birth of Jesus and playing vivid practical roles in the story – the donkey bearing Mary to Bethlehem and the flock of sheep being watched over by the shepherds. Apart from anything else, animals in the stable would be good for providing warmth, especially to a newborn baby. Traditionally, both the donkey and the ox were seen as meditative animals mainly because they chew the cud which was symbolic of contemplation. Presumably, this would also foster a suitable sense of calm and peace.  The portrayal of this fundamental connection we have with animals has been an ongoing theme across the centuries whether in religious artwork, literature or physical representations of the Christmas scene.

Little Donkey

A traditional part of Carol singing, especially for young children, Little Donkey honours the ‘beast of burden’ that Mary rode to Bethlehem to give birth. Donkeys, horses, asses, mules and camels have all been crucial to the survival of people in many cultures over the millennia and continue to be in the present day in some parts of the world. It is heartening to see organisations like SPANA, The Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary improving the welfare of working animals and involving local communities to ensure the wellbeing of the animals and their owners in a practical and sustainable way. They are delivering free veterinary care to working animals in some of the poorest communities in the world. 

For example, SPANA has a project working with Maasai women in Tanzania that supports them in caring for the donkeys they rely on to help fetch drinking water and carry sacks of grain. Not only is free veterinary care provided via a mobile clinic, but the women receive training in practical husbandry skills and become the go-to people in their communities if an animal gets sick or injured. This is proving vital in hard-to-reach rural areas.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night

The type of sheep the shepherds would have watched over is likely to have been fat-tailed or broad-tailed sheep. These breeds are hardy, adaptable and able to withstand the tough challenges of desert life. The earliest records of fat-tailed sheep are found in ancient Uruk (3,000 BC) and Ur (2,400 BC) on stone vessels and mosaics. Today their wool is used primarily for rug-making and other cottage industries such as the traditional rugs and blankets made by Bedouin women.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

On a starlit night long ago, as the story goes, three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus in a stable – gold, frankincense and myrrh. These prestigious gifts were typically given to honour a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense and myrrh as anointing oil. The latter two were worth their weight in gold.

Scholars think that these three gifts were also chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold to represent his kingship, frankincense as a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming. This is embodied in “We Three Kings” where the Maji Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar each have a dedicated verse for their gift.

Each offering has an element of healing too. Indeed, it’s thought that the medicinal uses of frankincense were known to the author of Matthew’s gospel. Researchers at Cardiff University have demonstrated that frankincense has an active ingredient that can help relieve arthritis by inhibiting the inflammation that breaks down cartilage tissue and causes pain.

Modern healing uses of the three gifts are outlined in more detail below.


Homeopath Sara Kernohan writes…..

Homeopathic Aurum metallicum is the remedy to bring sunshine back into your life.  The Aurum patient is hardworking and duty-bound, so if they can’t support their family or do their job they feel that they have let their family down. They become full of self-reproach and utter worthlessness – very often suicidal. It’s a wonderful remedy for the elderly patient who feels they have lost their purpose or value in life and may be useful for working dogs and horses who are retired and become depressed. On the physical side, Aurum is the remedy for decaying bones and teeth, boring pains, restless, unrefreshing sleep and sensitivity to the pain and the cold.  The horse on enforced box-rest to deal with a bone infection could do well on Aurum.


The Boswellia trees that yield the fragrant frankincense resin were widespread in the lands of the Bible and beyond at the time of the Christmas story. Sadly today they are at risk of disappearing with all Boswellia species threatened by habitat loss, a lack of protection and overexploitation.

Most frankincense comes from about five species of Boswellia found in North Africa and India, as well as Oman, Yemen, and western Africa. Gnarled and knotty, they resemble desert bonsai. To collect frankincense, harvesters make incisions into the trunks and scrape out the oozing sap, which hardens into frankincense resin. Ideally, the trees should be cut no more than 12 times a year to keep them healthy. The resin that leaks out of the cuts acts like a scab, protecting the wound so the tree can heal. There is ongoing work to make harvesting more sustainable so that local communities and consumers can benefit as well as conserving the trees themselves.

Herbalist Mickey Knight writes…..

Frankincense has been used for thousands of years, dating back well into the Bronze Age, but it’s most famous appearance has to be in the Bible when the three Magi delivered their presents of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the baby Jesus. However, Frankincense is not just a holy resin that smells incredible when used as a perfume or for purifying the air during burning as incense, it also has incredible health benefits. Some of its many chemical constituents are boswellic acid and terpenes. Recent research has shown that both might reduce swelling (particularly in arthritic joints but also osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) and inflammation in the tissues as well as respiratory health problems such as asthma. It shows promising results as an analgesic (pain reducing) and an antiseptic reducing the risk of infection. In Egypt, Frankincense is even today still used internally to maintain good health.

Frankincense by Isobel Hunt


Myrrh is a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora native to northern Africa and the Middle East. Myrrh resin has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. It was widely used for embalming as it slows decay – possibly due to its antimicrobial properties.

Herbalist Mickey Knight writes…..

Myrrh, another tree resin and very similar in its effects to frankincense, has strong anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-microbial actions. It is often used for problems concerning wound healing, sores, mouth ulcers, dry cracked skin and even acne and dermatitis as well as rejuvenating the skin due to its high amounts of antioxidants. Further, Myrrh is a good expectorant, used in bronchitis to ease off a mucous rich cough. Myrrh has a strong analgesic effect by interacting with the body’s pain receptors. The oldest recorded use of Myrrh dates back to the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, a medical papyrus of herbal knowledge dating back to 1,600 BCE.

On a more spiritual level, Frankincense and Myrrh are high on the list when it comes to their use in ceremony. Being resins, both have a very grounding and calming effect on the mind and psyche, reducing fear and anxiety and giving a sense of peace and protection when inhaled. Frankincense and Myrrh are believed to ‘lift the mind’ and the Hebrew people used both dissolved in wine before worship to connect to the holy spirit. In fact, the same mixture was also given to criminals hours before their death to reconnect them to God and take their fear away.

CAM4animals would like to wish everyone a safe, healthy and Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas by Isobel Hunt

Useful links

The Christmas Mouse

Bob the Christmas Cat

If you would like to help one of the wonderful donkey and other equine charities, here are a few suggestions: 

Mane Chance 
The Donkey Sanctuary
Brooke Action for Working Horses and Donkeys 
Prince Fluffy Kareem
World Horse Welfare
Bransby Home of Rest for Horses
Hillside Animal Sanctuary
Blue Cross

Isobel Hunt

Isobel is a Co-Founder and active CAM4animals supporter along with her Jack Russell who has integrated veterinary care. She has a background in wildlife conservation and writing, and is passionate about the importance of addressing animal welfare and environmental issues.

Michaela Ritter

Michaela is a fully qualified and registered Dipl Master Herbalist and Naturopath and founder of SamoVila Natural Health. She has been working with and studying herbs and essential oils since 1992 and has acquired a very broad knowledge about botanicals for a truly holistic use in supporting health and well being – be it physically, mentally or spiritually. Michaela is further certified in Equine Health (from vet Nicola Kerbyson) and Advanced Equine Nutrition (from nutritionist Dr. Jo-Anne Murray) and currently studies Tierheilpraktiker (Animal Naturopathic Practitioner) with a view to qualify in 2022. She specialises in horses and other herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats, etc) but also works with other species, including dogs, cats, rats and other small pets. She incorporates the principles of Zoopharmacognosy (the ability of animals to choose their own remedies) combined with her in-depth knowledge about herbs into her consultations.

Sara Kernohan

Sara is a Co-Founder of CAM4animals. As a homeopath, aromatherapist and counsellor, she has been involved with holistic health for humans for nearly 40 years (which frankly shocks her!). With many years’ experience with horses and having grown up with dogs and cats, Sara naturally ended up using all forms of CAM with her animals. Her children are grown up, so her attentions are now taken up with her two collie dogs and fabulously fluffy cat.

Sara is also a member of the team at Whole Health Agriculture which educates and supports farmers in finding alternative approaches to livestock health.

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website