Away in the Manger, Sheep Dip for a Bed



The True Story of Christmas

It happens every year, the carols are sung, the halls are decked, and trees put up. Of course we are speaking of Christmas. The time of year when everyone seems just a little more festive and the executives of Visa and MasterCard buy new cars. It's a tradition held dear by Christians and Non-Christians alike. A time of joy, peace and goodwill. But where did it all come from?

Well, it's said that it's the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. As taken from the Gospel according to Matthew. The conception with the Holy Ghost, virgin mother, manger, wise men, and so on. In fact, many people and most churches even set up a little scene from this story in their yards, or under their Christmas tree. But does this nice story match up with what we know from history? You can be the judge.

The first problem arises with the time of year that we celebrate Christmas. According to the Bible, the sheep were in the fields. This means that the whole thing probably happened in the spring or summer, but not in December. If it was in December the mangers would have been filled with sheep, not free for people to use as a delivery room. The reason we celebrate Christmas in December is because in 336 CE there was a celebration of Saturn (god of harvest) and Mithras (god of light). This celebration resembled Christmas as we know it, they would give gifts, sing songs, have a feast, and decorate their homes with greenery. The ruler of Rome at the time was a Christian, and he disliked this Pagan ritual greatly. He was also insulted by it's popularity. So he had an idea, he proclaimed December 25th as Jesus Christ's birthday. The 25th of December, was right in the heart of the pagan celebration. He came up with rituals that were improved versions of the pagan rituals, so he could win people over to Christianity.

The vision we have of baby Jesus in the manger is quite sweet, isn't it? A perfect baby boy, in a bed of hay, loved ones and animals around him. Ahhhh, simply beautiful. When we take a look at what a manger really was, it's quite shocking. In reality, a manger was a cave. There would be a small section near the mouth of the cave where the shepherd would sit and keep his personal belongings, but this space was tiny, about the size of handicapped bathroom stall. The rest of the manger was unclean at best. It was just a dark cave with generations and generations of sheep dung covering the floor. The mangers were never cleaned out, it just reeked of manure. If a baby were to be born in those conditions, it would have died or at best suffered from disease.

The wise men, when they had heard of the birth of the Messiah, probably thought that King Herod had a son. After all at the time Kings were called Messiach, which means "son of God". They were probably shocked to find out that there was still no heir to Herod's throne. Which brings up a point about Herod.

Herod, in Matthew, shows interest in worshipping this new born king of the Jews. Yet history tells us another story about Herod. Herod was very jealous and paranoid about other kings. In the Bible it says that Herod wanted all children under the age of two to be killed after the wise men mocked him. In reality though, Herod probably ordered the slaughter of all newborns at the word of the birth of a new king. He was very against even the thought of another king, and would do just this to take care of any threats.

Christmas wasn't always embraced as it is today, in the 1600s England and the American colonies outlawed Christmas because of it's pagan roots. Eventually, Christmas came back into fashion, just a little more religious than previously.

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