The Ass Carolers: Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-hee-haw

If it was good enough for Mary and Joseph. A pair of donkeys get ready for a night of caroling. Gianna Volpe photo
If it was good enough for Mary and Joseph. A pair of donkeys get ready for a night of caroling.  Gianna Volpe photo
If it was good enough for Mary and Joseph. A pair of donkeys get ready for a night of caroling. Gianna Volpe photo

By Gianna Volpe

East Enders are truly unique creatures and the way they celebrate holidays are no exception to that rule. And it’s not just posturing for the pumpkin pickers.

In fact, some of the Forks’ most unusual festive traditions are not centered around accentuating the area’s tourist appeal. Consider, if you will, that this will be the fifth year the East End Ass Whisperers take their donkeys on a for-local-by-local Christmas Caroling excursion along Aquebogue’s Church Lane.

And yes, you read that name correctly.

The East End Ass Whisperers are a small group of local donkey owners whose members save mini-donkeys from “going to France for lunch” as co-founding member Cathy Springer puts it.

“I first saw mini-donkeys at Equine Affair — a big horsey thing up in Massachusetts — and I went crazy about them, but couldn’t justify getting one with all my population,” the self-titled ‘Ass Queen of Aquebogue’ said of how owning several horses initially kept her from adopting a donkey of her own. “I just thought, ‘You’re very self indulgent; you can’t be doing this stuff,’ but then my girlfriend had Levi — a donkey she adopted from a rescue group that tries to re-home animals bound for slaughter — so I thought, ‘Wow, I could do a good thing here.’”

This resulted in Ms. Springer’s 2010 adoption of Lil E. Putian — a playful riffing off the tiny race of people in “Gulliver’s Travels” — an adoption that initially occurred without the knowledge of her husband, Harry.

“When I got Lil E. I knew before I ever said a word about it that this was not going to fly,” she said of slipping the donkey into her stable upon return from a horse camping trip. “There was going to be fussing and moaning and gnashing of teeth and I just didn’t want to hear a word about it. Since Harry doesn’t do much in the way of barn work — they’re all mine out there — he didn’t know she was out there for like three days when she suddenly let loose with this ‘Eeeeaaaaaaaaaa’ screaming for breakfast. His eyes were nearly out on sticks. He looked at her and his first comment was, ‘You know, you oughta take her over to that little petting zoo over in Manorville; I bet they’d like her.’”

Ms. Springer’s personal donk-ulation has since grown to include four, bringing the number of East End Ass Whisperer mini-donkey – often found celebrating holidays alongside the general population on the North Fork – up to nine animals.

A donkey dressed for the holiday.
A donkey dressed for the holiday.

According to Ms. Springer — who is responsible for EEAW’S playful handle — the group’s penchant for putting the “ASS in ChristmASS” with their Christmas caroling trip is a tradition more closely rooted in honoring the “Christ” in Christmas” than many may know.

In fact, there is no shortage of references to the animal in the bible.
It was a donkey that Mary rode to the inn where Jesus was born on Christmas Day and it was a donkey that turned its back in shame as Jesus hung from the cross, which then cast a shadow of the crucifix upon the animal. This action is rooted in a legend explaining the origin of the cross-like mark found across many a donkey’s back and shoulders.

It is also written that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as an act of humility.

“If he had ridden a horse, not only would he be far above the crowd, but horses represented warriors, soldiers. Donkeys were more of the ordinary man’s companion and worker companion, so rather than riding a war horse, he rode a peaceful, quiet day-to-day animal” said Ms. Springer of the biblical connection between Ass Whisperers activities like taking the donkeys to St. Patrick’s Church in Cutchogue for Palm Sunday or Christmas caroling along Church Lane.

“I worked out with my neighbors up and down here that we would come to sing for them and their job as a thank-you to the donkeys and horses was to create a little platter with pieces of apples and carrots,” she said, adding this year there will be at least half a dozen donkeys spreading cheer on the North Fork. “We’re staying local because we have people walking and people riding horses, so it gets very elaborate, but I’m excited. We all enjoy being out with the donks, they love being out in public and I love seeing people react to them; they’re just funny little things and so smoochy.”