Time for our yearly Christmas history post that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. It’s always interesting to track down the origins of holiday traditions. Now that Christmas is upon us, many have displayed their Nativity scenes with the usual stable, wise men and donkey. Some interesting facts:
- The Bible doesn’t state how many wise men there were. Three is divined from the number of gifts. Some traditions list many more Magi.
- We Three Kings tells us they are from the Orient. Some people may think this means the Far East, i.e. Japan and its neighbors. True today, but not back then. These terms referred to Persia (centered in modern-day Iran).
- Nowhere does the Bible record Mary riding a donkey, as many images depict. That comes from the Protevangelium of James 17:2: “He [Joseph] saddled the donkey and seated her [Mary] on it; and his son led it along, while Joseph followed behind.”
- While the “no room in the inn” and Christ being humbled by being born in a barn account is an inseparable part of Christian culture, is it correct? Would Joseph find no relatives and friends in the town of his origin? Did not Mary know people nearby as well? In fact, Luke doesn’t use the Greek word for a “commercial inn,” but the word katalyma, which means “a place to stay.” Luke also defines this as “guest room” in Luke 22:10-12. So they very well may have been with friends or family.
- The Bible simply reads “manger” as to where Jesus was placed. Assumed to mean that he was in a stable, but very early traditions state that a cave was being used. The mother of Constantine, Helena, had a church built over a cave, the Church of the Nativity. This is all probably wrong. Consider that a “manger” in Middle Eastern homes was in the home itself. This gives us an entirely different Nativity story. We have one where Joseph wasn’t irresponsible in getting his pregnant wife somewhere safe in time (Technically Luke doesn’t state Christ was born the night of arrival in Bethlehem, as commonly misconstrued).