The Donkey Who Wasn’t There

It’s there on almost every Christmas card featuring the scene of Christ’s birth. It’s a staple character in school Nativity plays, and artists from Titian to Bruegel have immortalised it in their paintings of that night in Bethlehem: the donkey, or ass. And for the flight into Egypt, in almost every depiction it’s the faithful donkey that carries Mary and the Christ child, often with Joseph leading it by the rein.

But look at the gospel accounts of Christ’s birth, and you may be surprised: there is no donkey! So how has this much-loved seasonal character entered Christmas lore, and why has the donkey remained a favourite Christmas staple ever since? In this festive podcast, Jane Little goes in search of the Christmas donkey and its real-life descendants today.

She finds out how one church in Central London was inspired to include a live donkey in its annual blessing of the crib when young Princess Elizabeth attended the event in 1937. We also hear about the donkeys that do play a role in the Bible, and Jane has some amazing encounters with the four-hoofed residents of the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. But she also finds out about a huge crisis spanning several continents that is now threatening donkeys across the world.

This podcast was also broadcast on RTE1, Ireland’s most popular radio network, on December 22nd.

Additionally, it was broadcast on Premier Christian Radio on December 29th 2019.


Listen now: 



The Donkey Sanctuary
BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal (St Martin-in-the-Fields)
Christmas at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

19th December 2019
22nd December 2019
29th December 2019
Presented by Jane Little
Produced by Kristine Pommert