The Catholic Defender: Was Bethlehem December 25, 2 B.C. Too Cold?


Sometimes artists through their expression and profession can influence thought and belief based on the perception of the artist. Christmas is a great example as many of our beloved music and art portrays Christmas in Bethlehem as being winter with snow. Consider the song "The First Noel", one of my personal favorites. It has a line, "On a cold winter's night that was so deep Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel!"

Notice the feeling you have singing this stanza? It's cold outside and you can really feel for those shepherds. Paintings and art work often depicts a Nativity scene with snow flakes and snow on the ground. Is this art and music that is so entrenched in our imagination of the Christmas story a true representation of the actual Nativity scene?

This statement was posed to challenge my position that truly the Shepherds were in fact out in the fields tending their sheep:

"We don't know when Our Lord was born. In winter, yes, because the shepherds were out in their fields that time of year. Why not appropriate a beloved pagan season to celebrate the Nativity? There's even a neat play on words. The Romans called the winter solstice Natatalia (sp?) Solis Invicti, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun (Son!)."

"Christ could not have been born in December since Saint Luke describes shepherds herding in the neighboring fields of Bethlehem. Shepherds do not herd during the winter. Thus, Christ was not born in winter."

This is somehow a very popular attempt to refute December 25 as the birth date of Jesus, but that simply is not accurate. The idea that December in Jerusalem/Bethlehem was too cold for Shepherds to tend to their flocks is a complete myth.

Southern Israel's weather pattern in December is about 50-60 degrees. At night it will get down to about 43-45 degrees. Late December in reality is quite mild and a great opportunity for sheep herders to graze their flocks. There are two points to consider here:

1. Consider Zachariah's first duty in Jerusalem as a member of the Division of Abijah (Luke 1:5) would have occurred about February. Luke 1:10 speaks to large multitudes in Jerusalem which being a high elevation in the Country, it is colder than out on the plains and valleys. December, however, will still be between 50-60 degrees average which is reasonable to graze their sheep.

2. We know that John the Baptist was born on June 24 during the summertime. The Virgin Mary did not transverse in the dead of winter to visit St. Elizabeth.

Luke 2:8 states, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."

Today you can still see shepherds tending their flocks in the fields in Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, there is actually two fields that has a Catholic ownership and another owned by the Greek Orthodox known as the "Shepherds field" both having memorials for the pilgrims to commemorate the Gospel of Luke's account.

The wool taken by the shepherds are a hot commodity for pilgrims and the sheep are highly prized. The Shepherds at the time of Jesus would have had access to the wool themselves keeping them warm as they kept watch over their flocks.

Sheep respond to the shepherd's voice. The voice of the shepherd brings comfort and security to the sheep. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27 ). The voice of the Lord is made manifest through His Catholic Church that presents His word through all the ages.

The Angels appeared to the shepherds out in the field who gave watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8-20). No where in this text does it hint that the weather was cold, that there was snow, or that there was even any rain that night.

We can appreciate and love the many classic Christmas carols and paintings that were experienced every year, but we also can appreciate the 2,000 year reason for the Season. Mother Mary pondered these things in her heart as the shepherds glorified God praising Him for what they heard and seen this first Christmas night.

So next time someone tries to sell you the idea that Christmas didn't come to Bethlehem December 25, 2 B.C., just give them a smile and a hug and tell them that they will be just alright.

History and tradition along with Scripture points to December 25, 2 B.C., the idea that Bethlehem was too cold is just is another Monty Python attempt for humor.

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