5 Surprising Facts About Christmas

by Catie Smith on December 18, 2017

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We’re now in the full swing of the Christmas season. Sometimes it's hard to tell fact from fiction between all the traditions, nativity renditions, and folklore.

But it’s important to get the story right. Since Christmas really is about God's Son coming to earth, it's important to understand what God has revealed. There’s a lot of tradition that gets confused for fact. As you teach your preschooler the Christmas story, keep the facts of Christmas in mind. 

How many of these did you know? 

1. A census brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem

From the earliest English translations of Luke 2, translators have written, “all the world went to be taxed” (Lk 2:1). While not a bad translation, it’s more of an extrapolation—and a fair one, at that.

The original word simply means, “to register.” Because the census was likely taken for tax reasons, translators often smooth out the concept for us by writing, “all the world went to be taxed.”

2. Bethlehem means “house of bread”

Bethlehem is the name of the little town just south of Jerusalem. They’re so close geographically that with natural population growth today their borders run right up against each other.

The word itself comes from the combination of two Hebrew words: “beth” (meaning “house of”) and “lehem” (meaning “bread”). And it was in the house of bread that the Bread of Life was born.

3. The stable may have been a cave

Once again basic Christmas tradition makes the reality of things a bit fuzzy. Every nativity scene takes place in a wooden stable. The fact is, we only know Jesus was placed in a manger (cf. Lk 2:7).

Bethlehem has lots of smaller caves that would have served as natural places of protection for animals. It may be that the manger was in a small cave.

4. There was probably no inn or innkeeper

Most Christmas plays have a role for a grumpy inn keeper, but Luke simply writes, “there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). The word for “inn” simply means a dwelling place, guest room, or lodging place.

They didn’t have formal inns as a regular practice at the time. Typically, travelers would lodge with local residents. With all those from Bethlehem returning for the census, it’s no wonder that the city would be bursting at the seams.

Since Joseph‘s family was from Bethlehem, he may even have had family in the area whose guest room was full. We know that at least by the time the wise men came, the young family was staying in a “house” (Matt 2:11). This doesn’t make the addition of a formal inn or an innkeeper heresy; just a layering of tradition.

5. The shepherds saw an angel army

Luke continues the Christmas story by shifting our focus to neighboring shepherds. Luke says they were “in the same country" but the English word "country" used to have the idea of “surrounding area” or “region.” And that's the thought here. They were in the region. They were close by—likely just outside of Bethlehem.

First one angel appears and tells the shepherds to not fear. Then the sky is filled with a “multitude of the heavenly host.” You may think “host” just is another way of saying “multitude,” but it actually means “army.” The shepherds saw an angel army declaring that the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord had come!

Are there any Christmas facts you didn't know about? Comment below!