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Stork Brings Baby: Antiquity, Scandinavia

To account for the sudden appearance of a new baby in a household, Scandinavian mother’s much-needed bed rest, the children were told that before the bird departed, it bit the mother’s leg. The need to offer young children some explanation for the arrival of a new baby) especially in a time when infants were born at home) is understandable. But why stork?

Early Scandinavian naturalists had studied storks and their nesting habits on home chimney stacks.  The birds, in their long, seventy-year life span, returned to the same chimney year after year, and they mated monogamously.  Young adult birds lavished great attention and care on elderly or infirm parents, feeding them and offering their extended wings for support.  In fact, the ancient Romans, impressed with the stork’s altruistic behavior, passed legislation called Lex Ciconaria, the “Stork’s Law,” compelling children to care for their aged parents.  The Greeks were equally impressed. 

Their term storge, the origin of our word “stork,” means “strong natural affection.”  Thus, the stork’s gentleness, along with the convenience of its nesting in a home’s chimney, made it an ideal creature to deliver a new arrival down the chimney.  For centuries, the old Norse legend was popular throughout Scandinavia.  It was nineteenth-century Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, through his fairy tales, who popularized the myth worldwide.

From: Extraordinary Origins of Everyday things
by: Charles Panati

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