Christmas traditions can strengthen families, communities, and nations. Family traditions are important because they help individual members to have a sense of belonging to a group. Traditions take many forms, such as stories, beliefs, and customs.
My family has a tradition of performing the Nativity story each Christmas Eve. We usually do the traditional scripture reading with actors playing the various parts. However, we have been known to vary from that practice. One year we had so few family members at home that we used the various parts of a Nativity set as the actors, sort of like a puppet show. Another year there was a television reporter that “interviewed” the various actors.
This year parts of the family will be doing the Nativity story in Texas, while another part gets together in Utah. A third part of the family will be in the family home in Alaska. We started doing the Nativity when our older children were only two and three years old and have continued for more than forty years.
We always had the main characters of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. If there were enough people, we also had wise men, shepherds, innkeeper (even the innkeeper’s wife and child), Herod, camels, donkey, etc. We assumed that they were all part of that first Nativity.
In reading various articles and papers over the past month, I realized that we assumed much that was not in the scriptures. There is no mention that Mary traveled on the back of a donkey. She could have walked approximately 100 miles, or she could have written in the back of a cart. We do not know.
There is no mention of the number of wise men. We assume that there were three and that they were rich because they brought three expensive gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – to the newborn King. Therefore, we assume that they also traveled on camels, but there is no mention of them riding on any animals. They could have walked, ridden camels, or ridden elephants or some other mode of travel. We do not know.
There is no mention that there were animals in the area where Jesus was born. It might have been years since any animals lived in that particular shelter. At any rate we must realize that Joseph would have attempted to make the place as clean as possible for his wife to give birth.
We always have the shepherds and the wise men coming to the stable during our reenactment of the Nativity. However, it did not happen that way. In the first place, the scriptures do not mention a stable at all. The angels told the shepherds that they would “find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). We assume that there was a stable because there is mention of a manger, but we do not know.
The shepherds found the Holy Family where the Baby was born – whether it was in a stable, a cave in the rock, or the lower part of a family home where the animals are kept. The wise men saw the star while they were still in the “east” and left immediately to follow it. We do not know how many miles they traveled or how many days it took them to reach Bethlehem. The scriptures say that they found the “young child” in a “house” (Matthew 2:11).
We always think of the trees in Bethlehem as being like coconut palm trees. However, I found no mention of this type of tree growing in Israel. According to this site, the trees in Israel are most likely Kermes oaks, Syrian junipers, Atlantic pistachio, black mulberry, olive tree, sycamore, lemon-scented eucalyptus (gum tree), spiraled (twisted) acacia, or Doum (or date) palm (gingerbread tree).