There was no snow that night in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago. Instead the black velvet skies were filled with a breathtaking array of stars. One star in particular had a startling brilliance and shed its light directly over a small, lowly stable. There within lay a newborn child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger with his bedding made from the clean sweet grasses provided to feed the animals.
Although that long-ago night was cold, the snug stable was warmed by the body heat of the animals that crowded around the tiny child. From the loft a small cat with gray and black stripes watched the shepherds and wise men who arrived to welcome the child.
As the hour grew late, the visitors departed, leaving the new family alone. Only the animals remained, and were welcomed to approach and sniff the baby. One by one they came forward: the mare, the cow and her calf, the mother goat with her twin babies. Only the small cat maintained her distance.
As the night turned colder, the child cried out, rousing the young mother from her sleep. Trying not to disturb her husband, Mary fed her baby, tended to his clothing, and rocked him in her arms. But he would not be soothed.
An hour passed and still he cried. She laid him on her shoulder and patted his back, and sang softly to him. For a moment he ceased his crying to listen, but soon he again wept. In defeat, his mother laid him again in the manger. “I know you are cold,” she whispered, “but I have nothing more to warm you.”
Hearing this, the gray and black striped cat climbed down from the loft to approach the manger. When the young mother did not shoo her away, the cat climbed the manger to gaze down at the child. After a moment of curious inspection, she crept closer to sniff the baby, and then lay down beside the crying child.
The baby’s flailing arms brushed the cat’s silky soft fur. At his touch, the cat began to purr the song her mother had purred to her. And as she purred, the child ceased to cry. His waving hands brushed again and again against the cat’s soft fur. At last soothed by the cat’s purring, the child slept and the cat curled into a sleepy ball beside him.
Watching her child and the cat cuddle together, Mary’s heart swelled with gratitude and she lay her hand in thanks on the striped cat’s head. “Blessings upon you, dear Tabby, for this sweet gift given to me and my child.” And where she touched the cat’s brow, there appeared an M—the sign of the Madonna’s benediction.
From that day forward, all tabbies are honored with a large “M” on their brow for the great service performed that first Christmas night by their ancestor.
May the peace of that first Christmas be with you and yours as you celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.