Christmas/Liturgical Seasons/My Faith/Teen Faith

Everything You Know About Christmas is Wrong (Kind of)

We are all familiar with the Christmas story – at least the cartoon/Vacation Bible School/Christmas TV special version of it. But (and this may be surprising) some of the most popular depictions of the Christmas story actually get a few things wrong.

How well do you know the details of the Christmas story? Time to separate the fact from the fiction, the donkeys from the kings, the innkeepers from the… well, non-inn keepers.

Here are 10 Nativity story details that (probably) never happened:

1. Mary probably didn’t ride a donkey on the way to give birth to Jesus.

I know that most popular depictions have Mary riding a donkey, but it is more likely that she and Joseph walked most of the way because they couldn’t afford a donkey. That’s right – Mary walked a long distance to give birth, like a total boss.

2. When Joseph and Mary arrived, an innkeeper tells them there is no room at the inn.

Well, not quite. In the Gospels, there is no innkeeper. There is just no room for Mary and Joseph to stay. Fun fact: The Greek word that is used for “room” is only used to describe one other place in the Gospels – the upper room where Jesus eats the Last Supper.

3. Thankfully, there was a barn for them to give birth in. Or, was it a cave? Or a stable?

Actually, scripture never clearly says. The only definite detail is that the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger – a feeding trough for animals.

4. But after they arrived, it was a silent night, right?

Jesus was fully human and fully divine. A fully human baby cries – a lot. That first night probably wasn’t so silent, but was filled with a lot of crying Jesus.

5. Until those three kings showed up with gifts, right?

Well, there were three gifts – but scripture never mentions three kings. Tradition later revealed the names of the three individuals associated with the gifts, though – Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. I know, all great baby names for your future children.

6. And about that king, thing…

The better translation is actually, “magi” or “wise men.” They would’ve been advisors to kings, but not kings, themselves.

7. And they may not have made it to the manger but instead visited Jesus when he made it to a house.

It would make sense that the magi would’ve arrived slightly later, especially since King Herod issues a decree to massacre any child under 2 – that age range would’ve been unnecessary if Jesus was still an infant when the magi showed up.

8. Oh, and the “star” that the magi followed, may have not been a single star but a major heavenly event.

The Greek word “aster” that is translated, “star,” has a closer meaning to “celestial event.” This could’ve been a major eclipse, a supernova, or something else that caught the eye of the trained magi. Basically, it was the biggest celestial event of all time.

Sorry, Kanye. There was once a bigger star.

9. OK, fine, I get all that – but please tell me that there were at least some animals around there so I don’t feel like my entire nativity scene is a lie.

Yeah, there might have been some – but it is more likely that wherever Mary and Joseph were staying (which is up in the air – see number 3) the keeper of the household cleared out a space for them – which meant clearing out animals, too. So, as heartbreaking as it is – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did not have a sleepover with a donkey.

It is good to have our facts about the Christmas story straight – but even more important to remember that Jesus is at the center of the Christmas story. It is all about Him. The details only help to paint a more vivid picture of who Jesus was and what Jesus came to do – save you and me. Want to know more about how it all really went down? Check out the first couple chapters of the Gospel of Luke here.


At no point did Santa ever visit the baby Jesus. The real St. Nicholas lived about 300 years after Jesus’ death.

Sorry, Santa.

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @ChasingHumility.

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