Did you realize that fiction plays a big part in many of our Christmas traditions? No, I’m not talking about the birth of our Lord and Savior. His birth is not fictional, but many of the things now believed about that special event are; they have been set in place by poetry, books, movies, songs, etc. This is evidence of the effects that fiction writing can have on the world.
What is the story that we normally hear about the birth of Jesus? Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem. You’ve probably seen pictures of Joseph leading a donkey with Mary seated on it. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at any of the inns for them, and she ended up giving birth in a stable full of animals the very night they arrived. The angels sang to the shepherds, who then found the place where Jesus was born. They were soon joined by three kings who rode in on camels to worship the newborn babe.
Just how much of that is true? Let’s look at the Bible and see what it has to say.
When you are done reading about all of these traditional beliefs, pick one and write a story about how you think it really happened.
Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem?
The Bible only says that Mary went to Bethlehem with Joseph, it doesn’t say how they traveled. Mary was rather advanced in her pregnancy, so I doubt she would have wanted to bounce up and down on a donkey for the approximately sixty- to seventy-mile trip. So, how do you think they got there? Maybe they did ride on donkeys, but Mary could also have ridden there in a way that was a bit more comfortable for a pregnant woman, maybe in a wagon.
Did Mary give birth the very same night they arrived in Bethlehem?
Mary and Joseph had to journey to Bethlehem to be registered, probably in what we would call a census. In Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, it only states that she gave birth while they were there, not the same evening that they arrived.
Let’s say that Mary didn’t give birth until a week after they arrived. How did she spend that week? How did she fill her time in a place that wasn’t her home?
Were Joseph and Mary actually turned away from all of the inns or motels?
This is a pretty major part of the Christmas story—Joseph and Mary couldn’t find any inns that had a room left for them. Kataluma is the Greek word used in the original text. It has been translated as “inn” in most Bible translations. But that isn’t specifically what the word means.
Kataluma, when translated literally, means “to loose down.” It is a word used to describe a place where weary travelers can bed down for the night, not necessarily an inn where people would pay money to stay. Most people had an extra room or two (katalumas) built onto their residence so that visitors would have a place to sleep.
There is another Greek word, pandocheion, used to describe places that charged people money for a room to stay in. So where exactly did they stay? Since Joseph was originally from Bethlehem, it is probable that they stayed with relatives.
Did Mary give birth to Jesus in a stable? Did she have to lay her newborn son in a manger?
Since we now know that Joseph and Mary probably stayed in the house of one of Joseph’s relatives or in some other house, where was Jesus actually born? You have to look at the customs of that time and place.
The Bible does say that he was laid in a manger, but you need to realize that in their culture, animals were usually brought inside the home during the evening. A manger was kept in the lower part of the house for them. Apparently, the house was so crowded that there was simply no other place to lay the baby. That doesn’t sound nearly as bad as giving birth in a stable, does it?
Did angels sing to the shepherds?
Yes, the angels did appear to the shepherds, but it doesn’t say that they sang. It says they praised God and spoke. They may have sung as they praised God, but it doesn’t say for sure one way or the other.
Was Jesus actually born on December 25?
Unfortunately, we don’t have documentation of the actual day and hour of the birth of Jesus. Shepherds did not normally abide in the field during the cold evenings of December; they normally kept flocks in the field during the spring and autumn. It would also have been really hard for Mary to make the journey in her advanced stage of pregnancy during this cold month.
December 25 was the date chosen by the Catholic Church to celebrate his birth. Its celebration replaced the pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice. This was the church’s attempt to offer the people a Christian alternative to what they were used to doing.
Did three kings visit Jesus while he was a baby? Did they ride on camels?
Jesus was visited not by three kings but by magi, also known as wise men. How many of them were there? The Bible does not tell us this, it only tells us that they brought three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Wow! Those are some expensive gifts for a baby. They have symbolic meanings, but that is a completely different story. And whether or not they rode camels is not mentioned.
So, did they actually visit Jesus when he was a baby? They probably arrived around the time that Mary presented Jesus at the temple. When Jesus was born, the Bible calls him a baby. Around the time of his presentation, he is called a child, which probably means he was about two years old.
Fiction is a very powerful tool. With it, you can change how everyone looks at things that have happened. You can change cultures, you can change traditions, you can change lives. May your writing make all of these things better.