As a historical romance author, I'm a stickler about getting the history right. If I read an anachronism in a book, I cringe. If the author gets a factual bit of history wrong without a note in the back explaining why, I'm apt to turn the book into a wall-banger.
That's why when it comes to celebrating Christmas, as a Christian, I want to get it right. Unfortunately, we Christians often tell the story of Christ's birth with a number of embellishments and outright errors. So at the risk of being labled a Grinch, here's my debunking of a number of Christmas myths.
The Date itself: We really don't know when Jesus was born. The Bible is very specific about the day and even the hour of his death, but we only know his birth fell within a range of a few years (In the days of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria).
In the first couple centuries after His life and death, Jesus's birthday wasn't celebrated at all. Some historians think the date came from the Roman holiday honoring the Persian god Mithras. In 274, the Emperor Aurilean declared December 25th "Dies Invictus Soli" Day of the Invincible Sun. By the fourth century, it had morphed into the celebration of Christ's Mass--Christmas.
As a side note: The Gregorian calendar based on what they calculated was Christ's birth year has been shown to be about 4 years off. 1996 was actually the 2nd millenium, which means we really don't have to worry about the world ending on December 21, 2012. That date has come and gone.
Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. Oh, I hope so since she was very pregnant, but the Bible doesn't say she rode. It only confirms that Joseph and Mary heeded the call for a census and traveled 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David. She may very well have walked.
Hark the herald angels sing! Not so much. No where in the Bible is an angel described as singing. They praise, they proclaim, they don't sing. That's reserved for us.
We Three Kings They weren't kings, there may not have been three of them and they certainly didn't arrive the night of Jesus' birth right after the shepherds left. The Bible calls them "magi." They were probably Zoroastrians from Persia (present day Iraq), who had access to the writings of Daniel (who'd been in captivity in their country centuries eariler) and studied the heavens for signs of the birth of the coming king. They bore three gifts--gold, franincense, and myrrh, very precious and unusual gifts, which may be the origin of the idea that there were three 'kings.'
It may have taken them two years to find the Christ child. The Bible says they came to the "house" so we know the baby was no longer sleeping in a manger. King Herod questioned the magi about when they first saw the star. So when Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents, he stipulated all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two should be killed. Fortunately, by then Jesus's parents had taken him to Egypt so Herod's evil plan to kill Him as an infant failed.
Christianity is a faith based on the belief in a God who intervened in history, that He came to be one of us. It's important for us to get the history right.
Wishing you a meaningful Christmas,