Christmas is my favorite time of year. In my house, the tree is up the day after Thanksgiving, the fire is going (even though we live in Orlando), hot chocolate is flowing, and the elf is making his way around our shelves. I love the Christmas season and all its sentiments, stories, and traditions.
Some of these stories and traditions are so familiar to us, though, that we don’t realize what is actually biblical and what we might be adding to the story.
Here are six Christmas myths that need correcting.
1. Yes, Mary Knew
Mary, did you know that your son would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? Did you know that he will soon deliver you? The angel said to Joseph:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Did you know that one day he would rule the nations? The angel said to Mary:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31–33)
2. We Three Kings of Orient Are (Not)
Matthew records the magi, or wise men, showing up to recognize the newborn king, but we have no idea where they were from, how they knew, what religion that practiced, what social standing they had, or how many there were. There were three gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), so many have posited that there were three men. Maybe, maybe not.
What we do know is that a group of men—likely riding Arabian horses, not camels—came to declare a new king. Matthew records them worshiping the Christ child, not in a barn but in a house. Could they have been the first Gentile converts to the incarnate God?
3. The Star Came After Jesus’s Birth
Most nativity scenes have a star shining brightly above, but the star wasn’t a sign to the shepherds at Jesus’s birth—it was a sign to the magi much later. Again, we don’t know when the magi came, but the fact that Herod ordered all babies younger than age 2 to be killed indicates that some time had passed.
4. There May Not Have Been a Barn or Inn
Tradition seems to indicate that the local hotel was full, and the heartless innkeeper wouldn’t allow pregnant Mary to come inside. If that’s true, I would hate to be that innkeeper. The problem, though, is that Scripture never mentions an innkeeper. It doesn’t mention a barn. It only mentions a manger that likely would’ve been inside someone’s house.
A strong case can be made that Luke is simply saying there was no place in town to stay (since this was the season of census), so the couple had to cram in with some of Joseph’s relatives in a house that had a manger in the largest room.
5. Jesus Didn’t Look Like Your Nativity Suggests
We have nativity scenes all around us—displayed on ornaments, assembled on tables, even reenacted in real life. Most of the nativities I’ve seen have at their center a light-skinned, blue-eyed, even blonde-haired Jesus. It’s hard to argue that Jesus looked anything like this, however, for he was of Middle Eastern origin. Jesus likely had dark skin, hair, and eyes.
Take a look at your nativity scenes and see how accurate they are.
6. Jesus (Probably) Wasn’t Born on December 25
Truth is, we really don’t know when Jesus was born. Most scholars say it was likely spring because the shepherds were in the fields, but we don’t know for sure. So, why December 25?
There are two theories.
The most accepted theory is that the Roman pagan holiday Saturnalia, once marked by green trees, lighted candles, and gift exchanges, was converted to what we now call Christmas. Once the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, the theory goes, the emperor declared it Christ’s birthday instead. Theory two is that early Christians reasoned the time of Mary’s conception and then added nine months. But who knows? Of course, it doesn’t ultimately matter.
What We Do Know Is Glorious
Fortunately, we know the most important part of the Christmas story is true. The God of the universe broke into our world by taking on flesh so we could be saved from our sin.
This Christmas season, whether we have three wise men or 30, camels or horses, star or no star, barn or house, let’s remember the promise of the newborn King who will return to fulfill what he began so long ago.