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12 Days of Wild: Mr Robin Redbreast

The Robin is a symbolic animal associated with winter and Christmas time. Cerys explores the symbolism of the Robin at Christmas and their history.


Robin Redbreast perched at Sonder Festival held at the Eden Project, Cornwall (05/12/2023). Image Credit: Oliver James via Instagram


The Robin is one of the most well-known birds in the UK, with particular recognition during the Winter months. Robins are known to perch and sing loud songs to mark territory and call mates and kin. Each year as Christmas draws closer there is a mass production of Christmas decorations, gifts and memorabilia featuring the iconic Robin Redbreast. So why is the Robin so iconic during Christmas?


Robin redbreast perched on a branch in the woods surrounding Argal Reservoir, Penryn, Cornwall. Image Credit: Cerys Deakin via Instagram


A simple explanation for the iconography of the Robin is the festive red colouration across their breasts. However, there is the suggestion that the symbolism goes further than colour association!


The Robin has been associated with Christmas since Victorian times. At Christmas Victorian postmen were known to wear red waistcoats to help provide warmth during the cold snowy weather. These red waistcoats gave the postmen the nickname of ‘Robin Redbreasts’. Despite the Robin being around all year round, they are particularly prominent during winter months – hence making the association between the arrival of red-breasted postmen and the Robin Redbreast.


Also in Victorian times, young boys would often kill Robins and parade them around their town in search of pennies. It was suggested that if you removed a symbol of the sun, then the sun need not leave during the winter months. This idea suggests that by the young boys removing the symbolic red breasts, the sun would provide warmer winters with longer daylight hours.


Robin Redbreast perched singing. Image Credit: John Gilbert via Instagram


The RSPB also suggests that people have a particular fondness for Robins as they are one of the few bird species that doesn’t migrate away from the UK during colder months. Therefore, there is a year-long familiarity with the species, suggesting that people hold a fondness for the birds that don’t leave.


There has also been some suggestion that the prominence of the Robin is more religious than first expected. Robin, simply translating into ‘shining one’, is often pictured on Christmas cards alongside a church and holly. This is said to symbolise the marriage between Christ and the church. Thereby offering another theory behind their significance!


Merry Christmas! During this Christmas period, take a minute to glance out of your window and if you’re lucky, you may have a little visitor!


About the Author: Cerys Deakin is a third year Zoologist at the University of Exeter, with a passion for conservation. She hopes to begin her career in the zoological industry and one day hopes to work alongside various organisations in future conservation efforts. She also has a huge interest in animal and wildlife photography that fits in well with her studies. You can find more about her on her LinkedIn page or check out her Instagram at @cerys.hermione.photography

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