I’ve always liked donkeys. It probably began when my favourite aunt paid for me to ride on one on Ramsgate Sands back in the 1930s. So, when I was writing new Christmas carols a few years ago, donkeys presented themselves before me and insisted that I should write something about them. ‘After all’, they said, ‘we’re part of the Christmas story’.
I fell to imagining three of them in their retirement, standing happily together in a field somewhere, chatting about their memories. The oldest one said he remembered carrying a young woman up to Bethlehem. She was about to have a baby.
The second one nodded slowly. He said yes, he remembered carrying that baby when he’d grown to a 12-year-old boy. His name was Jesus. And the third, the youngest, said he could remember carrying that same boy Jesus after he’d grown to a man. Lots of crowds in Jerusalem, he said, all cheering him.
I wrote the carol especially for children’s choirs, with composer John Barnard setting the words to music. Listen to it now, while you read. NOTE: The version below is the present one; the singers here had a slightly earlier version – a couple of words were changed but the meaning is the same.
I dreamed that I saw three donkeys I dreamed that I saw three donkeys all resting by Galilee and telling me tales of Jesus Christ who was born on the earth for me. ‘I carried a girl called Mary and heavy with child was she; I carried her up to Bethlehem that a-mothering she could be.’ ‘I carried the son of Mary, he rode like a prince, did he; we travelled the streets of Nazareth and a carpenter’s boy was he.’ ‘I carried the Lord of Mary to shouts of a jubilee; I carried him to Jerusalem, for the King of the Jews was he.’ I’m glad that I saw three donkeys all resting by Galilee; they tell me that I must be like him who was born on the earth for me. Tune: THE THREE DONKEYS Tom Cunningham