By Charlotte Owen
The nation’s favourite bird enjoys an even greater following at this time of year, when homes across the country are graced by a robin or two perched on the mantelpiece among an array of season’s greetings. But why is the robin so strongly associated with Christmas?
As with so many of our festive traditions, it all began with the Victorians. Back in 1840, a major reform of the Post Office saw the launch of the Penny Post, making it possible to send a letter anywhere in the British Isles for the modest sum of one penny - and introducing the now-famous Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp. Such an affordable new service immediately proved popular and generated a multitude of mail, which was delivered by postmen in brand new, bright red Royal Mail uniforms. The red-breasted postmen were fondly nicknamed ‘robins’ and the birds soon featured on early Christmas cards – another new invention – allowing the Victorians to delight in the idea of a robin delivered by a robin.
The postman’s nickname has long since fallen out of use but the bird remains our Christmas number one thanks to a huge back-catalogue of festive fables, legends and folklore. The most ancient of these viewed robins as omens and harbingers, potentially of joyful tidings, and the storybook robin is always a friendly, trusting character. The garden robin seems to live up to this reputation, appearing almost instantly the moment we start digging and happily darting underfoot to look for unearthed worms. Robins are resident all year round but draw particular attention with a splash of colour in the otherwise bleak mid-winter palette of browns and greys, and they are one of the only birds that sing at this time of year, so are often connected with winter. Robins are far from friendly when it comes to other birds though and can be surprisingly aggressive in defence of their winter feeding territory. They do begin to mellow towards the end of December when males start trying to attract a mate, so look out for pairs of robins jointly defending a territory around Christmas time and into the New Year.