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A Christmas Bull

Unfortunately there aren’t any constellations that have a real connection to the Christmas season. It’s hard to make Orion the Hunter into Santa Claus. Pegasus, the Winged Horse, is a poor excuse for a Reindeer. However, there is Taurus the Bull. He doesn’t have a red nose like Rudolph but has a red eye. Taurus is also above the horizon most of the evening, not setting until well after midnight.

Taurus the Bull is a small but distinct constellation and is a member of what I lovingly call “Orion and his Gang” hanging in the eastern skies. The best way to find Taurus is first to locate the Pleiades, a very bright star cluster that jumps out at you in the eastern heavens. It almost looks like a tiny Little Dipper. The Pleiades is also known as the “Seven Little Sisters.” Astronomically, the Pleiades are a large cluster of hundreds of young stars over four hundred light-years away. Just one light-year is nearly six trillion miles.

Once you’ve spotted the Pleiades look a little below the cluster for a small, fairly dim, but distinct arrow pointing to the right. That little arrow allegedly outlines the snout of Taurus the Bull. The arrow is also referred to as the Hyades, a loose, open cluster of stars. There’s a moderately bright reddish star on the lower rung of the little arrow called Aldebaran that’s supposed to be the ruddy eye of the Bull. You can extend the arrow's rungs backward to the far left and reach a couple of stars that mark the tip of the bull’s horns. One of the horn tip stars is Elnath, that’s shared by both the constellation Taurus the Bull and the adjacent constellation Auriga the Charioteer.

While “ It’s a Wonderful Life,” Scrooge,” and “The Night Before Christmas” are warm, classic Christmas tales, the Greek mythological tale of Taurus is definitely not! Zeus, the king of the gods was quite a ladies man. One of his love interests was Princess Europa, the daughter of a Phoenician king. Zeus had met Europa numerous times at royal parties and banquets and wanted to get better acquainted with the Princess even more, but she was underwhelmed. Maybe it would have helped there had to be some mistletoe?

Zeus had to get a little more creative. He knew that Princess Europa loved to raise prize bulls. She would spend hours and hours in the pasture with her beautiful beasts. Being the king of the gods, Zeus had a treasure trove of magical powers at his fingertips. In a puff of smoke he changed himself into Taurus, a gorgeous white bull with golden horns, and wandered into Europa’s pasture. The Princess was delighted! The bull was magnificent and well-mannered.

A few days later, Europa felt so at ease with Taurus that she decided to saddle him up and take a short ride. This was the opportunity Zeus was waiting for! After a few gentle loops around the pasture, Taurus kicked into high gear and shot over the fence and across the countryside with Europa clinging to him for dear life! While she was frightened, she was also excited by the high adventure. Even when Taurus reached the sea that didn’t stop him. He charged into the waves with Europa barely hanging on. He swam all the way to the island of Crete and finally stopped in his tracks. Europa was wet, frightened, and sunburned as she rolled off the deceptive bull. It was then that Zeus, in another puff of smoke, revealed his true identity.

Somehow that did it! Europa fell head over heels for Zeus and they were and they carried on for a couple of years. Zeus, though, was still a rover, definitely not into long-term commitments. Zeus was about to dump Europa, but she beat him to the punch. After a long trip away from home doing dastardly deeds, Zeus came home to find the locks on the doors of the house godly robes scattered across the front yard. Even though he wasn’t disguised as a bull anymore, Europa put Zeus out to pasture!

As I said, the story of Taurus is a long way from “Miracle of 34th Street”!
 

Diagram of THE CONSTELLATION Taurus...Click here