The Robin, an Spideog, is associated with Christmas and is very often featured on cards, cakes and Christmas trees cheekily perched among the snow-dusted, bright red berries of Holly. Why the popular garden bird is associated with Christmas is due to several different factors.
But, firstly, a word about robins; there are several different robins worldwide. To distinguish it, our species is the European Robin but since it is the only one we have we will continue to go with just 'Robin'. The robin that features in the still-popular 1920s American hit song: "When the red, red Robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along" is not our European Robin. It is the American Robin, a large red-breasted thrush, a totally different species.
Many birds have learned to follow grazing animals for the insects that the animals disturb in the grass as they feed. Robins have a long association with people evidenced by the fact that they will follow a gardener digging the soil for any worms, insects or other soil invertebrates that may be exposed.
Our local Robin is many people's favourite garden bird and it has the distinction of being the only species of wild bird found in Ireland that continues to sing throughout the winter. In many species males are the dominant singers as they use song to establish breeding territory. Robins are also unusual that both male and females sing equally well.
So, the endearing little bird was an obvious choice for Christmas cards when mass-production of cards became popular during Victorian times due to the introduction of the 'Penny Post' that brought postal communication within the reach of ordinary people aided by both developments in colour printing and the railway transport system overtaking the horse and cart.
At the time, postmen wore Royal Mail red uniforms and were consequently nicknamed 'Robin Redbreasts'. Since many people received post only at Christmas it made sense to have one 'Robin' bring an illustration of another Robin by way of a festive greeting.
The Robin also has religious connotations in that there is a long-standing myth that the bird got its red breast when a drop of blood fell on its chest as it tried in vain to pull a thorn from the dying Christ's head during the crucifixion. Hence its association with the Christian feast of Christmas.
Have a very happy Christmas and don't forget to feed and water the Robins and other garden birds over the festive season.