Some things you may not know about the Christmas story.

Overview

A quick look at some of the things that people get confused about when it comes to the Christmas story.

Jesus was born into a Jewish family

Jesus was brought up as a Jew. His message was first delivered to the Jewish people of Israel and then later carried to the rest of the world.

Jesus was not actually born on the 25th December.

Although a large part of the church celebrates the birth of Jesus on the 25th December we don't actually know the exact date on which Jesus was born. The early church chose the 25th December as a good day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the tradition has continued ever since.

There has been a lot of argument about why they picked on 25th December. It has been put forward that Christians may have wanted to have a date that would conflict with the Roman Sun god celebrations, and others that this was picked because it was the birth day of Mithras (although this was the Roman idea for the birth date of Mithras and it doesn't appear to be the original Persian birth date of Mithras and the Roman date may well have been picked on because it was already being used by Christians). To be honest the evidence is just not clear enough to know who had the date first. Originally there was no celebration for any gods on the 25th December and it is possible that the Christian celebration predates everything else. Without further evidence all we can say is that it was celebrated from quite an early date but which celebration came first - no one really knows.

There have been all sorts of theories put forward on the date of Jesus' birth that I won't bother you with (do some internet research if you want to know). The best guess seems to be September 29th and the first day of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles.

Christians have never really maintained that Jesus was actually born on the 25th December (although it does correspond with an old Jewish theory about a prophet's birthday being on a date six months distant from their death) it has only ever been a day on which to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

There may have been no Inn

The word that is usually translated as Inn can also mean any kind of place where one might stay (e.g. with family, with friends etc). As the definite article is used this does make it more likely to be an Inn but we cannot assume this from what is written. Some historians say it is unlikely that a place like Bethlehem would have had an Inn at that time.

Often in houses of the time there would have been a room for animals in the lower part of the house and it may well be that Jesus was born in this part of a house because the guest room was full. However the Bible also says that it was Mary who dressed Jesus and put him in the manger. Now it could be that this was the custom of the time (I haven't been able to find any information on this - although there were midwives) but it seems more likely to me (having witnessed four births of my own children) that if a mid-wife or even any other friend or family member had been present they would have done this for Mary (my wife agrees by the way). It is possible that Joseph vacated the room for the birth and this is why he didn't do it for her.

All we know is that Jesus was laid in a manger (a feeding trough for animals) but there is no mention of a stable, a cave or anything else like it in the Bible. The only reason for believing it might have been a cave is that the traditional site of the nativity is in a cave. This traditional site dates from quite early on in the growth of the church and so it may well be where Jesus was born but apart from the tradition there is not any other evidence.

Of course if there was no Inn then there was no Inn-keeper, certainly there is no mention of anyone talking to an Innkeeper in the Bible.

Mary may not have ridden on a donkey

This appears in so many stories of the nativity that we have accepted it as part of the story. There is no mention of this in the Bible.

Jesus may not have been born on the night of their arrival

The Bible only tells us that they were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, there is no mention of how long they had been there. However it does say that the birth was announced to shepherds during the night so there is every chance that Jesus was born at night.

There were no Kings

The Bible tells us that Wise men (Magi), not Kings came to visit Jesus. We have no idea how long it was between the birth of Jesus and their visit. We also do not know how many of them there were - although they did bring three gifts, gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Of course none of this matters

The details of the story and how closely they relate to the interpretations of childhood plays or Hollywood blockbusters has no impact on the meaning of the event. Whenever or wherever Jesus was born we know that he was born in a very ordinary family in a borrowed room, where shepherds were the first people to visit him. We know enough about his birth to know that something remarkable is going on which seems to be directed at ordinary people and not the rich or famous as we might have expected.