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11 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Jesus' Birth

Your Nativity scene needs a re-do.

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1. The first nativity scene didn't appear until 1223.

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More than a millennium after Jesus' birth, St. Francis of Assisi received permission from Pope Honorious III to stage the first nativity in an Italian cave. Present were an ox and an ass. By the Late Middle Ages, nativity scenes could be seen throughout Europe.

2. The Star of Bethlehem was actually a thing.

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The "star," however, was most likely an astrological conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Competing theories are that the star was a nova, or new star; a comet; or an aligning of Jupiter with the star Regulus.

3. December 25 isn't actually Jesus' birthday.

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In fact, the Bible doesn't even indicate the time of the year that Jesus was born. It wasn't until the fourth century that the Church finally decided upon a Dec. 25 Christmas. In 2008, astrologers studying the appearance of the so-called Star of Bethlehem pinpointed a June 17 birthdate.

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4. Our modern conception of Jesus' birth comes from one chapter in Luke.

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The Gospel of Mark avoids the event entirely, while Mark and John start their gospels with Jesus as an adult.

5. The number of wise men who visited Jesus is unknown.

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Though the Christmas carol "We Three Kings" leads you to think otherwise, the Bible actually makes no mention of the number of wise men who visited Jesus. The "Magi from the East" did, however, bring him three gifts: gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

6. Jesus wasn't actually born in 1 A.D.

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Most scholars put the date of Jesus' birth sometime between 7 B.C. and 2 B.C. Even Pope Benedict XVI agrees, writing in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, "The actual date of Jesus's birth was several years before" 1 A.D. The miscalculation was made by sixth-century monk Dionysius Exiguus, who invented the modern calendar.

7. People have been using "Xmas" since the 1500s.

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To people who think saying "Xmas" is taking the "Christ" out of "Christmas," that just isn't so. In Greek, "X," or Chi, is the first letter of Christ's name. Christ is still in Xmas.

8. Jesus probably wasn't born in a stable.

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The wooden crèche we're used to seeing as part of Nativity scenes is not at all accurate. Some, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, believe Jesus was born in a "cave-like place." Others say Jesus was born on the lower floor of a relative's house. Wherever it happened, it probably didn't look like the Nativity on your parents' mantle.

9. The wise men may not have met Jesus as a newborn.

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Many scholars believe they arrived when Jesus was between one and two years old. When the wise men did come, the Bible says they visited Jesus at his family's house, not at the place of his birth.

10. Between seven and 20 children were murdered during the Massacre of the Innocents.

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After the wise men failed to report back to him about Jesus' birth, Harod "gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under." But because Bethlehem was such a small village, experts estimate the number of boys murdered by Harod's forces to be less than 20.

11. The Bible doesn't mention any animals being present at Jesus' birth.

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Finding an ox or donkey in a modern-day Nativity scenes is easy; finding them in the story of Jesus' birth is impossible. In his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI confirms their absence from the manger scene: "In the gospels there is no mention of animals." People assume the presence of animals due to the fact that Mary "placed him in a manger," or feeding trough.

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