The birth of Jesus

Part of a series on the traditions of Christmas

Christmas Day shouldn’t really be on Christmas day at all. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but Jesus wasn’t born in December. The Christian Church has never claimed that he was but chose the 25th as a convenient date to celebrate his birth.

Jesus was most probably born in the spring. The clue in the Bible’s account of his birth is that the shepherds were on the hills above Bethlehem looking after their sheep through the night. Sheep wouldn’t have been out in the fields in the winter ands it’s most likely that sheep given such attention had been specially chosen to be sacrificed at the Jewish Passover festival, which is in the Springtime.

So if Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, what do we know about his birth? Well it wasn’t in the year 0 either. Although our calendar is based on BC and AD, dating the year from the birth of Jesus, the 6th century Abbot who worked our when Jesus was born got it wrong. It’s most likely that the actual date was 7 BC in the time of the Emperor Augustus and the reign of King Herod.

We know Jesus’s mother was an unmarried teenager called Mary who was engaged to marry Joseph the local builder, and the both lived in the town of Nazareth, which was in the region of Galilee, up north, well away from important cities like Jerusalem and Caesarea.

We know they went to Bethlehem, King David’s town, because Augustus wanted to find out who he had in his Empire and ordered everyone back to their ancestral home town. Bethlehem was a small town but because it was where David’s descendants called home it was busy for the census. There were no guest houses free so Mary and Joseph either stayed with family or in a makeshift shelter. While they were there the baby was born, and they had to use a manger, an animal’s feeding trough for a bed for their new-born son.

A group of people out watching their sheep were told by an angel to look for a baby down in the town who had been put in a manger and that this baby was special – the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.

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