December 2017
From the State Vet's Office

Some Thoughts About Christmas

I have been a regulatory veterinarian for over 20 years, more than a third of my life. I tend to look at the world through a regulatory set of glasses. I am not a person who never met a regulation he didn’t like. I am also not someone who thinks we are always needing more regulations. I am, however, a regulatory person, and I tend to have a perspective on life driven by regulations. I am also a Christian and, hopefully, I look at the world through that set of glasses, at least most of the time. So, when you put those two heavy influences in my life together, it sometimes makes for some interesting musings. A good example is my thoughts about Christmas.

I once wrote a small article in a publication for accredited veterinarians in Alabama considering the regulations that could have possibly been involved in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," especially if all the animals were from out of state and required health papers to travel into Alabama. It seems regulatory issues could have reduced the 12 days to five days – lords leaping, ladies dancing, golden rings, pipers piping and drummers drumming. Of course, there is a concern about the drums. There were once a few cases of anthrax associated with bongo drums made of skins from animals where anthrax is common, but drums are not on my list to regulate.

Anyway, sometimes when I think of the first Christmas and Jesus being born in a manger in Bethlehem, I start speculating on how modern regulations could have played a role. Maybe they had these regulations in place then and Luke chose not to waste parchment writing about that aspect of the first Noel. Either way, I am sure God’s plan to bring the Christ child into the world would not have been hindered by a few government regulations.

So, think back with me if you will to the first Christmas and consider some of these questions. The Bible states that Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. I wonder if a health certificate could have been required for the donkey Mary rode the roughly 96 miles between the two towns. I wonder if they would have had to have a negative Coggins test to be able to go along with the health certificate? I am wondering, with the road between the two towns passing near the Mediterranean Sea, should the donkey have been vaccinated for encephalitis because it is a mosquito-borne disease?

Another question I have has to do with public health. Was it not an issue with the Bethlehem Health Department that the Bethlehem Inn put Mary and Joseph in with the animals for lodging? Consider this: There is no way, today, a hotel with no vacancies could book the barn out back as an extra room. And, for sure, you could not put a pregnant woman into such accommodations. Certainly, there would have been the possibility of exposure to E. coli and salmonella. You are required, today, to have hand-washing stations in petting zoos. I wonder what they did before hand sanitizer was invented?

And, drawing from my 50-plus years of attending nativity scenes and Christmas programs, I am fairly sure sheep were present in the stable where Christ was born.

I wonder if there was a chance any of these sheep had scrapie? Although scrapie, the prion disease affecting sheep, was first documented in the 1700s, there is common speculation the disease has been around since Biblical times.

Was there any consideration of brucellosis if a cow had recently calved in the stable? Had there been any foot and mouth disease detected in the area?

I seriously doubt any of that crossed the minds of the expectant parents. I suppose they were focused on the fact that God’s own Son was about to be born in those humble surroundings.

As I take off my regulatory glasses and look at the birth of Christ from a Christian perspective, I realize, on that first Christmas day, everything was perfect. There were no worries about animal disease or where the hand sanitizer stations were located. After all, it was the Great Physician of all time being born there. When God, in His infinite wisdom, decided it was time for His Son to be born into the world to provide salvation for all mankind; everything was perfect.

There is one other aspect of the first Christmas I want to mention, especially considering most of you reading this article are somehow involved in agriculture. I cannot take credit for noticing this because I have heard other great thinkers bring out this point: The first announcement of the birth of Christ went to the shepherds – farmers, if you will. A person could only speculate as to why the angels made the birth announcement to a group of farmers, especially when there were so many people in Bethlehem at the time that there was no room in the inns.

I think it was because farmers usually know they depend on God for rain to grow their crops and grass, and for dry weather to harvest their crops. I suspect, last summer when we went through a significant drought, there were not many of us in the agriculture community who did not ask God to send us some rain. I figure that even though the shepherds were startled by the angels, when they heard what the announcement was, they didn’t have a difficult time believing Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. After all, Isaiah had predicted that a few hundred years earlier.

So, as we approach the Christmas season this year, I hope you will take time to reflect on the fact that the first Christmas marked a day that changed the course of human history. We still acknowledge that first Christmas today every time we write the year of "2017." When we write it, we acknowledge Christ was born 2017 years ago. I hope, as we celebrate Christmas 2017, your life is better because of what happened all those years ago.


From all of us at the office of the State Veterinarian, "Merry Christmas!"


Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.