With Christmas only a few weeks away and the first seasonal cards starting to arrive, it won’t be long before you catch sight of your first Christmas robin adorning one of them – and there are sure to be many more to follow.
Often, the plucky little bird will be depicted in a snowy landscape, red chest pushed out proudly, and feathers fluffed up against the chill winds of winter.
In the UK, the robin redbreast – erithacus rubecula to give it its proper scientific name – has been a staple festive image for well over a century. But have you ever wondered how it came to be the poster bird for Christmas?
In part, it’s because unlike many other birds that head south in search of sunnier climes in winter, the robin doesn’t migrate. Instead, it chooses to stay put, facing the frosts, snow and bitter winds at home in the UK along with the rest of us.
Image source: https://www.birdwatching.co.uk/birdspecies/2017/12/14/robin
As well as having long associations with winter folklore, there are various tales that connect the robin with Christianity. One such story has the little bird present at the Nativity, bravely placing itself in front of a blazing fire to protect the infant Jesus. The robin scorches its feathers in the process, causing the red patch it carries on its chest to this day.
While the robin’s connection to Christmas may lie deep in history and legend, it was comparatively recently – during the second half of the nineteenth century – that the association really took hold.
In Victorian England, partly thanks to significant reductions in postal rates made possible by the new railway network, the custom of sending Christmas cards grew in popularity. Mail was delivered to doorsteps across the country by postmen wearing the bright red uniform of Royal Mail.
It was because of their attire that postmen quickly acquired the nicknamed ‘Robins’, and it wasn’t long before Victorian Christmas cards began to feature our feathered friend – frequently delivering a beak full of seasonal mail.
The robin has been an ever-present feature of Christmas card designs ever since.
Image source: https://giftshop.bhf.org.uk/robin-on-a-postbox-christmas-cards
But robins are not just for Christmas. Our affection for them extends all year round, and in 2015, a nationwide ballot saw the robin voted Britain’s national bird – seeing off the barn owl and blackbird along the way.
Robins are happy living in a range of habitats including woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens, and according to the RSPB, there are nearly 7 million pairs of breeding robins in the UK; so wherever you live, you can be sure you're never very far away from one.
It’s easy to fall in love with the robin. If you’re a gardener, you’ll know that you only have to put your fork into the soil and start digging and it won’t be long before a robin joins you, hoping for some grubs or worms to feed on. However, despite their friendly demeanour towards us humans, they’re aggressively territorial and quick to drive away avian intruders.
Both adult males and females sport a red chest, and the robin is one of only a few birds in the UK to sing all year round, using song to defend territory, and in springtime to attract a mate. If you hear a robin chirping in winter it’s a good sign; it means the bird has built up sufficient fat reserves to survive the cold nights – and has enough energy left over to defend its territory.
Let Robin Bring Seasonal Cheer to You or Someone You Love This Christmas!
Given the affection the nation holds for this little bird, it’s not surprising that of all our patterns, Robin , is one of the most popular. It flies off our shelves (pun intended!) throughout the year, but as you’d expect, it’s especially in demand at Christmas time.
Robin depicts this beautiful bird from different perspectives as it searches for berries in a hedgerow. Its plumage, red chest and bright eyes are captured perfectly by the artist in this unique tapestry design.