The story of the Nativity is familiar even to many non-Christians. America, in particular, hears the Nativity story a hundred different ways every Christmas, from TV shows to dioramas in store windows to pageants to artwork. The familiar images are everywhere. However, just because something is iconic doesn't mean it actually happened in the Bible. So, when was Jesus born? According to popular belief, he was born on December 25, and he spent his first days in a stable surrounded by farm animals, wise men, and angels.
In actuality, almost none of these details are in the Bible. Many so-called facts about the birth of Jesus are actually the creation of Rennaisance artists rather than the writers of the gospels. Like many details about the life of Jesus Christ, centuries of mythmaking have warped the truth of the Nativity.
Rather than being born in a manger, Jesus was likely born in a private home. While the word kataluma is sometimes translated as "inn," it actually refers to a reception room in a home rather than a public inn as many assume. Additionally, Joseph and Mary were likely traveling to join their family for a Roman census, meaning they may have been staying with relatives.
The image of a baby born to forlorn, outcast parents thrown out by an innkeeper and forced to sleep in a manger is potent; however, no evidence for the reality of this image exists within the Bible, and conflicting evidence is found elsewhere.
The notion that Mary arrived at the manger the very night she gave birth is likely an invention of storytellers attempting to build drama. Jesus's seemingly humble beginnings also make his eventual "Savior" status even more noteworthy by contrast.
However, there is zero indication that Mary gave birth the night she arrived in Bethlehem. The Gospel of Luke simply says, "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."
December 25 was chosen as the date of Jesus's birth long after the fact to make conversion seem more palatable to pagans. A December 25 celebration of Christmas easily replaced the annual winter festival (or Saturnalia, in the case of the Romans) and carried over some of its traditions. The Bible makes no mention of December 25.
The actual date of Jesus's birth is unknown. Scholars have attempted to pinpoint the month and day based upon the date of King Herod's passing, after which there was a supposed mass elimination of infants. However, based on a lack of evidence, researchers have determined this tragic event never took place.
Similarly, astronomers have tried to align the Star of Bethlehem with the date of Jesus's birth, but no evidence exists to suggest that the star is anything more than a biblical invention. Despite this murky evidence, general consensus holds that Jesus was born sometime between 6 BC and 4 BC.
More than any other aspect of the Nativity, the three Wise Men are a result of falsified mythology. The Bible mentions the Wise Men only on a few occasions. In Matthew, they speak to King Herod and are sent to follow the Star of Bethlehem to find Jesus. The entirety of their interactions with Jesus are contained within a few lines:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Additionally, the word "three" never appears in the chapter. Many have commonly assumed there were three Wise Men because Jesus received three gifts, but the actual number is unknown.