By JB Richards
The recounting of the first Christmas is ingrained into our collective memories, as are any of our most treasured family and religious traditions, and they remain an integral part of each holiday gathering. Here is what the story tells us; The Romans order a census, decreeing that all Jewish males and their immediate families report to the town of their births in order to be counted; alone, and unaccompanied by any other family members or friends, Joseph the Carpenter and a very ripe Mary make an arduous journey from their hometown in Nazareth to Bethlehem in southern Judea; the couple arrives in Bethlehem with the Blessed Virgin already in great distress from the onset of her labor; the exhausted newlyweds are callously turned away from a crowded inn, only to find a last-minute shelter in a stable; singing angels descend from the heavens, enticing shepherds, who are busy tending their flocks in the fields to abandon their wooly charges and come worship at the feet of the Christ-Child; three wise men, Magis from the Far East, set out on an epic journey under the guidance of a special star that appears on the horizon of the western sky—the enigmatic star we now refer to as “The Star of Bethlehem”—the celestial signpost that signalled where the Holy Family awaits their arrival.
But, what if I told you that the story of the first Christmas is an embellished tale, mere fantasy passed down through the centuries by generation after generation of clerics who wished to make the birth of Jesus a focal point of a floundering new religious movement that eventually became one of the world’s greatest religions? What if I told you that the traditional Christian version of the birth of Jesus didn’t happen at all the way you think it did? What if I told you that the historical Jesus, familiarly known as “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Jesus Christ”, wasn’t born on December 25th? What if I told you that he wasn’t even born in December?! What if I told you that his name wasn’t “Jesus”, but “Yeshua” (Yeshu/Yeshuah)—the name his mother gave to him, and called him in their native Aramaic tongue? And, what if I told you that the true miracle of Jesus’ life never lay in the fabrication of a Christian fable, but in the charismatic, enigmatic, and brilliant young master, rabbi, teacher, scholar, and healer he turned out to be?
So, why was the date of December 25th chosen as Jesus’ birthday in the first place? Is there some significance to this date that would enhance Jesus’ notoriety and Christianity’s claim that he was the long-awaited Messiah? December 25th is a central date that coincides with a much-beloved, heavily-celebrated, and popular pagan holiday—the Feast of Saturnalia, and the winter solstice. In the early days of the Church, it was difficult, at best, to entice converts into leaving their wild celebrations and worship of a pantheon of false gods to follow the Way of Christ. The early Church patriarchs usurped both of these wildly popular winter festivals in order to lure followers to the Christian faith, and Jesus birthday was forever celebrated as December 25th.