Real Christmas (Part 3): Fields, Flocks, and Fall

sheep in fieldsLuke 2:8 says, “That night, there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

 In our culture, this verse is no big deal.

We read it like, Shepherds….
fields…
flocks…
night.

Got it.

The impact can be easily overlooked if you don’t know the cultural implications stated here, which is a game changer.

Israel is called “The Land of Milk and Honey” for a reason. “Milk” represents the livestock that grazed on the rolling, green hills. “Honey” represents nectar from the fruits and vegetables grown on the verdant plains. Animals were on hillsides to make room for produce to thrive in flat areas where food would grow best. This was simply how it was, and worked great for both herdsman and farmers.

During the “off” season, between harvest and the next planting time, farmers would invite shepherds to bring their flocks down into the fields to fertilize the area.

This immediately lets us know Jesus’ birth did not happen in December due to their planting times, but either in the spring or the fall.

So why do we celebrate Christmas in December? In the year 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine (kind of) converted to Christianity. This was great news for Christians, who had been persecuted pretty much from the start. Instead of celebrating Jesus’ birth in the spring or the fall (there is no historical evidence Christ followers celebrated his birthday until after this time), Constantine chose December 25 to correspond with two other pagan holidays.

Both Saturn, the Roman god of Agriculture, and Mithras, the Persian god of light, had celebrations in late December. Putting Jesus’ birth with other pagan god celebrations brought several religions together. And, from the very beginning, Christmas was a time where gifts were exchanged, families cooked extravagantly, and a birth was celebrated. Just like the Persians and Roman festivities did for their gods at that same time.

As much as we like snow at Christmas, to be more culturally accurate we should be putting spring flowers or fall leaves around the crèche. And, we can thank Constantine for “starting” the Christmas holidays in the first place.

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