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No Partridge, No Pear Tree, But We Do Have Birds, Trees, And A Famous Saint

December 15, 2012

I’ve been doing a Christmas cover illustration for editor Eric Meisfjord and the Inland Register for quite a few years now. I always look forward to it. The Inland Register is the monthly news magazine for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington, USA.

This year’s cover featured some unusual “contemplatives”– here’s the final: Christmas cover illustration for Inland Register Spokane's Catholic diocesan newspaper showing snowy wooded winter outdoor setting, birds in trees with feeders looking at tiny creche Nativity scene with Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, shepherds, with Saint Francis of Assisi smiling down on everyone

My original concept did not include Saint Francis. That was Mr. Meisfjord’s suggestion, and it was an inspiration for a couple of reasons.

Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved Catholic saints. Rich kid, wild youth, dramatic conversion, a life of humility, simplicity, poverty, and personal holiness. It’s a story that gets your attention.

There are many stories and legends about Saint Francis, including his preaching to the birds and other animals. He is very much identified with a love of nature and all creation.

Below, left: Saint Francis by Jusepe de Ribera; middle: St. Francis preaching to a
very diverse “flock” (I regret to say I’ve been unable to discover who did this wonderful illustration); right: a St. Francis statue (many people have one in their garden).

images of famous catholic friar and saint Saint Francis of Assisi who supposedly preached to birds and animals and is associated with nature and the environment and all God's creation, his statue is often found in people's gardens

Here’s a detail image with my own take on St. Francis. I definitely see him with a smile on his face.detail image for Christmas cover illustration for Inland Register Spokane's Catholic diocesan newspaper showing snowy wooded winter outdoor setting, birds in trees with feeders looking at tiny creche Nativity scene with Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, shepherds, with Saint Francis of Assisi smiling down on everyone

I said including St. Francis here was an inspiration for a couple of reasons. OK, he has an association with birds– what’s the second reason?

He created the very first Christmas creche in 1223, using live animals. A creche, also known as a Nativity scene, is a three-dimensional representation of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

The concept became enormously popular, and remains so to this day. Key figures include Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, shepherds, animals, and the Magi.

images of Christmas creches which are representations of the Bethlehem manger and the Nativity and the birth of Jesus Son of God and include figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, sheep, animals, and the Wise Men, Magi, Three Kings

I kept my creche very simple, knowing it would be a very small part of the illustration. So: no sheep, no Magi. Here’s another detail image:detail image of Christmas cover illustration for Inland Register Spokane's Catholic diocesan newspaper showing snowy wooded winter outdoor setting, birds in trees with feeders looking at tiny creche Nativity scene with Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, shepherds, with Saint Francis of Assisi smiling down on everyone

Naturally, at this point, the big question on everybody’s mind is: What’s the total number of birds in the illustration?

I count 76. Most of them are cardinals and black-capped chickadees.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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What do you think? Are you familiar with St. Francis? Is a creche part of your Christmas? Have you ever hung one in a tree?? Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Did The Animals Really Talk On Christmas Eve? No, They Jammed!

Put On Your Cowl, It’s Time To Howl– Hallelujah!

Come To The Stable, It’s Under The Bridge

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42 Comments
  1. stationaryobjects permalink
    December 16, 2012 3:45 AM

    Reblogged this on stationaryobjects.

    • December 17, 2012 11:39 AM

      Very glad you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas, and thanks for your support! : )

  2. December 16, 2012 1:39 PM

    Oh, this is lovely! Such a sweet, peaceful, and fascinating image! LOVE the idea and how you brought all of it to life!

    And it’s great to see a saint smiling! So often they’re in the throes of torment, or something. Your St. Francis looks joyful.

    And there’s not one drummer drumming, anywhere in sight!

    • December 17, 2012 11:49 AM

      Thanks, kind spirit! I sincerely appreciate your haunting me here! : )

      I have to believe that saintliness and smiles go together. Too often people fear humor because they equate it with frivolity and a lack of seriousness. Not so. Faith is confident and naturally joyful. G.K. Chesterton once opined that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly– a great insight!

      Thanks as ever, Robin, for your smiles and joyful support– Merry Christmas!!

      Is she gone? OK– send in the drummers!!!! : P

  3. December 16, 2012 7:53 PM

    I’m singing…. “And a partridge in a pear tree.” And I’m smiling from ear to ear..!
    A wonderful image, Mark, filled with love and joy… Well done to you..
    Yes, I’m very familiar with Saint Francis of Assisi, and yes I’ve had a number of ‘nativity’ scenes over the years however, I’ve not had one small enough to go on a tree…
    It’s a wonderful time of year, Mark… I’d like to take this opportunity to Thank You for your wonderfully uplifting posts, and your visits to my blog as well…. May Christmas hold much for you by means of laughter and fun…

    • December 17, 2012 12:03 PM

      Was that you singing?? Such lovely music! But you must come down out of that tree at once, Carolyn!! This is no time to be doing your Tarzan impression! You are are much too valuable a part of the Blogosphere to be up there doing grapevine acrobatics!! : )

      Thanks for your lovely comment, and all your ongoing support. I must thank you in turn for all your engaging posts. You are an exceptionally good influence, and I always enjoy my visits to your blog. A very Merry Christmas to you, dear Carolyn! : )

  4. December 16, 2012 8:22 PM

    St. Francis is one of my favorites. His love of animals did draw me to him. I love the smile you gave him. I have an illustration of Jesus laughing. I’d like to think they also laughed, that they also enjoyed their lives despite the challenges.

    • December 17, 2012 12:25 PM

      Thanks, Judy. I’ve seen that illustration of Jesus laughing. I have to believe he and Saint Francis smiled and laughed a lot despite the tremendous challenges they faced. Sadness and gloom sap one’s strength; joy and laughter revive it, and help us press on with confidence.

      One of Francis’ more famous quotes is: “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”

      He’s also credited with saying: “When gloominess takes root, evil grows. If it is not dissolved by tears, permanent damage is done.”

      He clearly had a very impressive understanding of human psychology.

      Thanks for all your good cheer and always putting a smile on my face– Merry Christmas!! : )

      • December 17, 2012 7:00 PM

        Thanks, Mark. I’ve never heard those lovely quotes before. They are inspiring and provide a lot of comfort.

      • December 21, 2012 2:24 PM

        They were new to me also, Judy, and definitely a blessing. Sometimes researching a post pays off in unexpected ways. : )

  5. December 17, 2012 2:33 AM

    Ahh so Christmasy! I love this Mark! And I really adore the details in your illustration. I love birds–I had a lovely blue parakeet named Holly when I was younger. I’m going to pretend that one of your adorable birds is actually Holly if that is okay with you ;) teehee!

    • December 19, 2012 11:16 AM

      Thank you, Jane, it’s always a pleasure hearing from you. A blue parakeet named Holly. Hmm! Sounds Christmasy, but the color’s a little off… : P

      Yes, I hereby decree the cutest blue bird in the tree to be Holly! I’m sorry I didn’t think to give her a little embroidered sweater with her name on it… : )

      Wishing you a very jolly Christmas!!! : )

  6. December 17, 2012 6:41 AM

    76! There really are 76 birds!!! great composition!

    • December 19, 2012 11:21 AM

      Funny thing: the first three times I counted them, I got three different totals! I finally had to hunt up my original line drawing and tick them off one by one. When I got 76 three times in a row, I figured I had a winner!

      Thanks for your lovely comment and cheerful support– Merry Christmas!! : )

  7. December 17, 2012 7:05 AM

    Oooh, Spokane again. Well, you know my connection to the city, but I can’t remember if you told me yours? Beautiful, beautiful illustration! I really do think this is my favorite to date.

    • December 21, 2012 2:20 PM

      Many thanks, Jak, very sincerely appreciated. Yes, I remember your telling me you made the scene at the 1974 World Expo in Spokane. What was it– in utero?? I’ve never been to Spokane, but I have a warm feeling towards the city, just from doing these annual Christmas covers. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas! : )

      • December 23, 2012 5:24 AM

        I hope you can visit someday. It’s sleepy, and a little rundown, but I’ve always, always enjoyed my time there.

  8. December 17, 2012 6:47 PM

    Nice art!

    • December 21, 2012 2:22 PM

      Thank you! You’re clearly one of the Nice people, so I’m gonna put in a good word with Santa for you… : )

  9. December 17, 2012 7:04 PM

    I also posted this on my Facebook page. Thanks again, Mark, for all your good cheer.

    • December 21, 2012 2:32 PM

      Hey, that good cheers flows both ways, amigo. Thank you, and I’m flattered that you put it on your FB page! : )

  10. December 19, 2012 7:48 AM

    I only counted 59 birds…waaah! …This is why I’ve never been good at “where’s waldo?” and probably proof that I shouldn’t be left alone to babysit birds…. :P

    • December 21, 2012 2:47 PM

      We have an annual bird count every winter in New Hampshire (really). I signed you up, but now I’m crossing your name off the list… : (

      Hey, don’t feel bad. As I mentioned in another comment reply, I kept getting different bird totals myself until I physically checked them off one by one on my original hand-drawn line art.

      Hmm. I’ll bet you could find Waldo if he had some cheesecake… : P

      • December 26, 2012 10:13 PM

        Omg yes! Or chocolate…….oh…or a chocolate cheesecake….waaah!

      • December 30, 2012 7:49 PM

        I told Santa to bring you some cheesecake, and he said: “Even if we started making ‘em in July, she’d still go through ‘em all in one sitting!” Sounds like he knows you pretty well… : P

      • December 26, 2012 10:14 PM

        ps…you know the saddest part is that I’m an accountant…but don’t worry…I do tax…not audit. :P

      • December 31, 2012 12:55 PM

        Why, I don’t believe it! You’re not a “taxing” person at all!!– but I do believe you’ve audited more than a few cheesecakes in your time… : P

  11. December 19, 2012 10:41 PM

    No, I didn’t realize that St. Francis was a nature lover and saint to represent man’s love for nature/animals.

    It would be lovely if one day we will have an English language Christmas carol or song that becomes popular with birdsong in the background.

    Warm wishes for a Christmas ..with real bird twitters (not just the Internet social stuff).

    • December 24, 2012 9:24 PM

      I’m just guessing, Jean, but I’ll bet St. Francis woulda ridden a bike if they’d had bicycles back in the 12th and 13th centuries!! : )

      There is a Carol Of The Birds, but I’ve never heard a version that employed actual birdsong– that’s a very intriguing idea!

      Agreed: let’s get out on Christmas Day and enjoy some real tweets, not the kind on twitter.com!! Merry Christmas, Jean! : )

  12. December 20, 2012 6:00 AM

    “dam good work” indeed! :-)
    Francis would certainly be happy!

  13. December 20, 2012 2:46 PM

    I had to count for myself…and WOW 76 indeed! Awesome attention to color and detail, love this illustration.

    • December 24, 2012 9:27 PM

      It’s always good to have someone check the math… : )

      Really appreciate your kind comment, Dave. Thanks much, and a very Merry Christmas to you!

  14. December 21, 2012 9:34 PM

    I’m a Roman Catholic but never knew about first Christmas creche by St. Francis of Assisi. Unless I forgot the story about the creche since my family always have it for Christmas. Hope I didn’t make an excuse. :D

    Creche is always be part of my Christmas. I feel quite sad actually every time I see Christmas decorations which all about Santa instead of the Creche. :)

    Very nice illustration, Mark! Thanks for sharing it. ;)

    • January 7, 2013 2:12 PM

      Thank you, Inge, and a belated Merry Christmas to you!! I was visiting a large creche, and a big donkey statue fell on top of me– I’ve only just crawled out and escaped so I can finally respond to comments… : P

      Yes, it’s funny about the creche. Most people would probably guess it’s a fairly recent idea, dreamed up by someone to make money off of Christmas. Pretty amazing to think it goes all the way back to 1223, to a friar who wanted to make Christ’s birth more meaningful to people. I’m a Catholic myself, and I appreciate the creche’s power to inspire devotion and contemplation, and to help keep the focus on the sacred origins of Christmas Day.

      Thanks for all your support, Inge– and I sure hope Santa brought you a brand-new, high-end digital camera and a stocking full of memory cards!! : )

  15. December 23, 2012 2:00 AM

    Wonderful post! I place to share it with our grandchildren when they hang the creche in our tree. Perhaps our little princess will do the honor this year. :)

    • December 24, 2012 10:03 PM

      The Little Princess… I remember her– she takes after her grandmother, The Big Princess… : P

      A very Merry Christmas to you and Tim and all the gang!! : )

  16. December 23, 2012 12:32 PM

    Hah! I’m not even going to try to count them all Mark! I loved the little red bird who just couldn’t help herself and had to tidy up the roof. I didn’t know anything about St. Francis except in passing, but now I definitely want to know more. What wonderful quotes! And I love that you made him smiling and full of joy! :D

    • January 7, 2013 1:43 PM

      Thanks, Linda, that means a lot. Yes, Francis’ observations have great power, don’t they? He clearly had great insight into human nature. One hates to think of all the good ideas and hard work that are wasted every day because human nature and psychology are ignored. If people won’t “buy in” to your ideas, it doesn’t matter how brilliant they are– you’re a goner.

      Fortunately, you and I don’t have to worry about such things. Not only are our ideas brilliant, but we’re so pure, trustworthy, and lovable that people buy into anything we say– and they should, it makes perfect sense!! : P

      Thanks as always for your support– and I’m gonna send that little red bird over to tidy up your workstation!! : )

  17. December 31, 2012 10:32 PM

    I love this image, Mark. It is lovely, beautiful, happy, colorful, friendly, inspiring … so many words, and all of them describe your illustration and make me happy. I saw this image go by my reader, and I did stop editing for a bit to enjoy it, but didn’t dare stay to chat. I’m glad I came back. I’ve known St. Francis was a lover of animals and birds, but I didn’ t know about the creche. So nice to learn something new. :-)

    • January 2, 2013 8:00 AM

      Thank you, Maddie. What a lovely comment. Very sincerely appreciated. Apparently Francis’ first creche featured live animals. No record that he recruited any birds for the gig, but I’d like to believe he did! Thanks so much for all your support. : )

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