What is the Nativity?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Jewish prophets foretold the earthly arrival of a Messiah who would deliver the Jews from their oppressors. This Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, an obscure village in Palestine. When a direct descendant of the Jewish king David, a carpenter named Joseph, arrived in Bethlehem with his pregnant wife Mary for a tax census, they could only find shelter in an animal stable. When Mary gave birth to her son Jesus, it is believed that several Eastern astrologers, or wise men, paid homage to the child. This scene is now considered by Christians to be the Nativity, or the honored birth of Christ.

Jesus' birth is not always depicted in a Nativity.
Jesus' birth is not always depicted in a Nativity.

The Nativity of Jesus Christ is one of the essential elements of the Christian holiday known as Christmas. Although there has been speculation over the actual season of Jesus' birth, modern Christians have assigned December 25th as the symbolic date of Christ's arrival on Earth. The Nativity scene traditionally depicts Joseph and Mary receiving visitors, including several local shepherds and a visiting group of Eastern astrologers or mystics known traditionally as the Three Wise Men.

The Nativity in Christianity is the birth of Jesus.
The Nativity in Christianity is the birth of Jesus.

The Nativity does not necessarily represent the precise moment of Jesus' birth, but a time when Joseph and Mary could formally receive visitors. In the traditional Nativity scene, the infant Jesus is presented in a manger, a symbol of His future role as a sacrificial Lamb. Surrounding the manger are a number of domestic animals and the shepherds who tend them. Joseph and Mary are often positioned on either side of the manger, in order to greet their guests and protect the infant Jesus.

Churches may erect a living tableau of the Nativity scene, using live volunteers.
Churches may erect a living tableau of the Nativity scene, using live volunteers.

During the Nativity, the Three Wise Men are said to have presented Joseph and Mary three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Representations of these gifts are often included in a traditional Nativity scene. Each gift is said to represent an aspect of Jesus' destiny, from the royalty symbolized by the gold, to the bitterness of His death symbolized by the myrrh, a traditional Jewish burial spice. Some modern biblical scholars have wondered if the story of the wise men from the East may be more of a legend than a true event, however.

In modern times, many Christians remember the original Nativity of Jesus by displaying models of the event in their homes. Others volunteer to recreate the story of Jesus' birth and Nativity through dramatizations. Some churches erect a living tableau of the Nativity scene, using live volunteers and real animals.

Myrrh was one of the gifts presented by the Three Wise Men to Joseph and Mary.
Myrrh was one of the gifts presented by the Three Wise Men to Joseph and Mary.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

Leonidas226

@BioNerd

Well, the fact is, we don't really know when Christ was born, and before it was a Christian holiday it was a pagan Roman holiday of the Winter. The holiday was a celebration of the benevolent father god Saturn, and was celebrated by giving and receiving small gifts. God is said to have given us a small gift in the form of Christ in a manger. He was certainly not what people expected.

BioNerd

I find it strange to see images of mickey mouse and santa outside people's houses on Christmas. Isn't Christmas supposed to be about Christ?

hangugeo112

@Tufenkian925

Not to mention the idea that God would die a contemptuous death in crucifixion. This is why Christianity seemed so ridiculous yet intriguing to so many people in that day and age. Today we take it for granted, but the sign of a cross was considered shocking and profane in its day, as was the word for crucifixion.

Tufenkian925

Who would have thought that one day we would consider a feeding trough in a barn to be sacred? In the old days, these were contemptuous factors, as was crucifixion. The fact that God would come to earth as a poor and desolate baby born in a contemptuous location went against all forms of religion and beliefs about god in that day and age.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: