How Authentic Is the Christmas Portrayal of Christ's Birth?

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How Authentic Is the Christmas Portrayal of Christ's Birth?

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This holiday season here in the Philippines consumes one third of each year. The Philippines has the fourth largest Christian population on earth. With over 80 million of its people professing to be Christian (mostly Catholic), the "Spirit of Christmas" begins as early as September 1 and doesn't end until January 6 each year. During this four-month season Christmas carols are played in public and pervade the airwaves. In an effort to authentically portray the birth of Christ, a new movie titled The Nativity Story was released on December 1 for showing in theatres during this year's Christmas season. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph with Shohreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth, movie director Catherine Hardwicke sought to achieve authenticity in the movie's depiction of the birth of Christ. The shooting location for Bethlehem was done in the village of Matera in Italy (the same location used in filming The Passion of the Christ), while the set for Herod's castle and the Jerusalem temple was filmed at Ouarzazate in Morocco (the same filming location as The Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven). While the effort to authentically portray Christ's birth is commendable, the influence of tradition has caused it to stray somewhat from the true biblical account. The movie depicts His birth occurring in a shivering cold, windy and wintry season where fires were essential for keeping people warm. When compared to the carefully detailed account of the gospel writer Luke at least three very important deviations from Scripture stand out. The Roman decree for census and taxation . Let's remember that with the collective wisdom of Roman tax officials, local Roman administrators made sure their tax collections would occur at the best of times—right after the main fall harvest with still good weather to minimize the potential problems stemming from lack of money or difficulty of travel due to winter conditions (Luke 2:1-5). There was no room in the inn. Why? Lodging at that time was likely filled because of the Jews' custom to attend the annual fall festivals commanded by God. The Romans would have probably timed such taxation to coincide with the Jews' annual travel to Jerusalem to observe these festivals (Luke 2:7). Shepherds were out in the fields that night. The weather was still warm enough for shepherds to keep their flock out in the fields at night (Luke 2:8). The Adam Clarke's Commentary (Abingdon Press, Nashville) notes concerning Luke 2:8, "As these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields ... On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up." Alexander Hislop's book, The Two Babylons,explains: "In that region, from December to February ... the cold of the night was piercing. Thus the shepherds never kept their flocks and herds out in the open country from December through February—it was simply too cold" (p. 2, 1959). Most encyclopedias and similar historical references document that the December 25 nativity tradition is associated with the ancient Saturnalia celebration (for worshipping the pagan god Saturn). All such references (including the Catholic Encyclopedia) admit that Christ was not born on or even near December 25 in the middle of winter! Yet this ancient custom, even if celebrated in gross ignorance of its true pagan origin, refuses to die. Other aspects of Christmas' celebrations also oppose biblical teachings. Regarding adapting pagan celebrations for the worship of the true God the Bible commands, "... do not inquire ... 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise' ... You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way ... Whatever I command you be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:30-32) . Jesus Christ also spoke out against seeking to worship God by incorporating pagan customs, "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men ..." (Mark 7:7-9). For more informative details on this important subject, just request, read online or download our free booklets: Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? and Jesus Christ: The Real Story.