I’ve known for a while that there are some…issues with the way we celebrate Christmas. Aside from the clearly commercial aspects of the season, there are some inaccuracies with Christian traditions as well. My husband, Luke, and I recently did a study tour in Israel, and a lot of these things really stood out. The shepherds were likely women. Mangers are for water, not hay. A stable is a cave, not a wooden structure. Donkeys were the BMW of the day. There is no way a poor girl like Mary would have been riding one. No donkeys at the manger scene. No cows either, they weren’t common in the area.
The way we celebrate or include these things in our nativities or Christmas traditions doesn’t hurt anything, but when people hear them, it can be a lot to take in. There are several different ways to react to this information, and it has been interesting in our house to see how Luke and I have responded differently.
Luke hasn’t become anti-Christmas, exactly, but he has been really frustrated. He has been wondering if it is even worth celebrating Christmas in the way we do at all. I’ve kind of gone in the opposite direction. I’ve been feeling that if you are looking for Christmas and all the traditions around it to get your Jesus-fix, you are bound to be disappointed. I’ve started to think of Christmas as a fun and beautiful family tradition that I can see Jesus in, just as I see him in the many other traditions that we celebrate throughout the year.
One that comes to mind is a small tradition I have with my kids. Every fall we seem to get one warm Sunday late morning when the leaves are abundant and beautiful. While my husband is still at church for our second service, I come home with the kids, and we make leaf piles, and they run and jump and play. This is a sweet time for me as I reflect God’s intimate attention to detail in the way nature works, in the beauty he incorporated into his good creation, and the loving, playful relationship I enjoy with my children that reflects how God sometimes deals with me.
When I view Christmas, and all the traditions within it, like decorating, cookie making, and present exchanging, I can enjoy these things as family traditions enjoyed within a family that is seeking to honor Jesus in everything we do. When I combine this with reading the Word every day, praying, and seeking to live and love like Jesus in my everyday life, I find a freedom to enjoy the season without feeling stressed that it isn’t, in many ways an accurate representation of what that “First Christmas” was like.
Just to leave you with something else to chew on: shepherds (again, typically women during that time) graze their flocks in the desert almost year round. You seldom bring flocks near the farmland because they are for growing food. The only time shepherds come into the fields is right at the end of the harvest, to eat down the stubble before the fields are plowed and made ready for the next planting. The rains, and thus the new planting season, beginning in late October, early November. So the only time the shepherds could be “nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8), would be August/September. There is no way this story took place in December. December 25th is not Jesus’ birthday! Not even close. That date has to do more with some pagan celebrations, but that’s a whole other story. Still, it is a beautiful thing to celebrate that our king was born on the earth…something worthy of celebrating on December 25, June 18, or any other day of the year!
I have known for a long time now that Jesus was probably born in the fall. The astronomers, aka wise men, arrived when Jesus was older, not a infant. The female Shepard’s and the water manger are new, interesting information for me. I too have mixed feelings about decorating, like Luke does now. Today the world has taken Christ out of Christmas almost totally. People all over the world celebrate Christmas and have no idea it was intend it to be a religious holiday, or was it? The pegans, who started the whole tree decorating thing, had the market cornered on this holiday and they still do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the celebrating our Saviors birth and the amazing gift he was to the world. But how many of us truly reflect on His birth on Christmas Day? Or do we go to Church Christmas Eve and then spend the following day handing out gifts we can’t afford, eat until we are miserable, and at the end of the day craw into bed totally exhausted? I just wonder if God is pleased with the way we remember the birth of His son. It has me scratching my head and torn about all celebrating with all the fanfare for years now. I would love the facts.