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Vocapedia > Time > Christmas > Nativity story




Gasoline Alley


by Jim Scancarelli


December 25, 2011



















Jeff Parker


Florida Today


3 December 2010















in the Holy Land        UK










Bethlehem        UK















west bank > Bethlehem        USA










Bethlehem Christians        December 2012        UK










Jesus        UK










the traditional birthplace of Jesus


the Church of the Nativity,

in the West Bank town of Bethlehem


first constructed in the fourth century

over the grotto

where tradition says Jesus was born



christmas-in-bethlehem.html - 2016




















Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity        USA        2005






St Catherine's church in Bethlehem        UK        2012






Grotto of the Nativity        UK        2012


a 14-point silver star

set into a marble slab marks the spot

where Jesus is believed

to have been born






Midnight mass at St Catherine's        UK        2012






Bethlehem's Manger Square

flanked by the Church of the Nativity at one end

and St Omar's mosque at the other






The Latin Patriarch

the most senior Catholic figure in the Holy Land






Christmas tree
















nativity        UK






The Nativity Story










art's best nativity scenes        2012


Whatever your beliefs,

these Renaissance nativity scenes by artists

such as Piero della Francesca and Sandro Botticelli

are peaceful and beautiful. Merry Christmas






Cartoons > nativity        USA        2007






film / movie > The Nativity Story        2006







the infant Jesus





cartoons > Cagle > Nativity        December 2010






The Epiphany of Our Lord /

Epiphany / January 6 / Three Kings' day / Twelfth Day / Twelfthtide






on January 6th, or twelfth night,

the last of the 12 days of Christmas





the star of Bethlehem





the Magi / the three kings / the three wise men / Melchior, Gaspar, & Balthasar








the Adoration of the Magi

- the three kings bringing gifts to the Christ Child

twelve days after his birth











crèches / nativity scenes        USA






manger        USA








crib        UK



















Steve Breen


The San Diego Union-Tribune


16 November 2010


















Tab (Thomas Boldt)


The Calgary Sun

Alberta, Canada


















16: And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.


17: So all the generations from Abraham to David
are fourteen generations;
and from David until the carrying away into Babylon
are fourteen generations;
and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ
are fourteen generations.


18: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:
When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph,
before they came together,
she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.


19: Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,
and not willing to make her a publick example,
was minded to put her away privily.


20: But while he thought on these things,
behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream,
saying, Joseph, thou son of David,
fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.


21: And she shall bring forth a son,
and thou shalt call his name JESUS:
for he shall save his people from their sins.


22: Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,


23: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son,
and they shall call his name Emmanuel,
which being interpreted is, God with us.


24: Then Joseph being raised from sleep
did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him,
and took unto him his wife:


25: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son:
and he called his name JESUS.


Holy Bible > New Testament

Matthew, King James Version, 1611

parsed&tag=public&part=1&division=div1 - broken link


















David Parkins


The Guardian       p. 29

27 December 2005


Related > Gaza strip barrier / border wall


















Corky Trinidad


The Honolulu Star-Bulletin


6 December 2005
















Corpus of news articles


Vocapedia > Time >


Christmas > Nativity story




Pope Speaks of Solace

for ‘Tortured Regions’


December 25, 2007

Filed at 7:13 a.m. ET


The New York Times


VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI issued a Christmas Day appeal Tuesday to political leaders around the globe to find the ''wisdom and courage'' to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo.

Benedict delivered his traditional ''Urbi et Orbi'' speech -- Latin for ''to the city and to the world'' -- from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing thousands of people gathered in the square below under a brilliant winter sun.

Wearing gold-embroidered vestments and a bejeweled bishops' hat, or miter, Benedict urged the crowd to rejoice over the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, which he said he hoped would bring consolation to all people ''who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war.''

He mentioned in particular those living in the ''tortured regions'' of Darfur, Somalia, northern Congo, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Balkans.

''May the child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions,'' he said.

Beyond those conflicts, Benedict said he was turning his thoughts this Christmas to victims of other injustices, citing women, children and the elderly, as well as refugees and victims of environmental disasters and religious and ethnic tensions.

He said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to ''those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend human dignity.''

Such injustices and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and souring international relations, he said.

In a nod to his engagement with environmental concerns, the pontiff also noted that the number of migrants and displaced people was increasing around the globe because of ''frequent natural disasters, often caused by environmental upheavals.''

The pontiff delivered his message just hours after celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Benedict followed his speech with his traditional Christmas Day greetings -- this year delivered in 63 different languages, including Mongolian, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Burmese, and in a new entry for 2007, Guarani, a South American Indian language.

As he finished, the bells of St. Peter's tolled and the Vatican's brightly outfitted Swiss Guards stood at attention as a band played and a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands waved national flags and cheered.

Pope Speaks of Solace for ‘Tortured Regions’,
NYT, 25.12.2007,






Pope Offers

Christmas Prayers for Peace


December 25, 2006
Filed at 8:56 a.m. ET
The New York Times


VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged a solution to conflicts across the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa, in a Christmas Day address that included an appeal for the poor, the exploited, and all those who suffer.

''With deep apprehension I think, on this festive day, of the Middle East, marked by so many grave crises and conflicts, and I express my hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace,'' Benedict said Monday.

The Pope singled out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his speech.

''I place in the hands of the divine Child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments,'' the pontiff said from a balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.

The pope also mentioned violence in Lebanon, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Darfur and the whole of Africa, as Ethiopian fighter jets bombed airports in Somalia and more people died in suicide bombings in Iraq.

Under his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the Christmas Day message became an occasion to review progress and setbacks for humanity. Benedict noted Monday that despite its modern-day successes, the world remains in desperate need of a savior.

''This humanity of the 21st century appears as sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs,'' the pope said. ''Yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and unbridled consumerism.''

    Pope Offers Christmas Prayers for Peace, NYT, 25.12.2006,






Worship God Not Technology,

Pope Says on Christmas


December 25, 2006
Filed at 8:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Mankind, which has reached other planets and decoded the genetic instructions for life, should not presume it can live without God, Pope Benedict said in his Christmas message on Monday.

In an age of unbridled consumerism it was shameful many remained deaf to the ``heart-rending cry'' of those dying of hunger, thirst, disease, poverty, war and terrorism, he said.

``Does a 'Saviour' still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium?'' he asked in his ``Urbi et Orbi'' (to the city and the world) message to the faithful in St Peter's Square, broadcast live to millions in 40 countries.

``Is a 'Saviour' still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?''

He appealed for peace and justice in the Middle East, an end to the brutal violence in Iraq and to the fratricidal conflict in Darfur and other parts of Africa, and expressed his hope for ``a democratic Lebanon.''

In a separate, written message to the small Christian communities of the Middle East, the Pope said he hoped to visit the Holy Land as soon as the situation allowed.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in a sunny square, he wished the world a Happy Christmas in 62 languages -- including Arabic, Hebrew, Mongolian and Latin -- but his speech highlighted his preoccupation with humanity's fate.



Marking the second Christmas season of his pontificate, he said that while 21st century man appeared to be a master of his own destiny, ``perhaps he needs a saviour all the more'' because much of humanity was suffering.

``People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism,'' he said from the central balcony of Christendom's largest church.

``Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith.

``Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all.''

The Pope also made reference to the controversial case of Piergiorgio Welby, a paralyzed Italian man who was denied a Catholic funeral because he had asked to die.

``What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?'' he said.

Welby, an advocate of euthanasia, died on Wednesday after a doctor gave him sedatives and detached a respirator that had kept the victim of advanced muscular dystrophy alive for years.

In his midnight mass for some 10,000 people in St. Peter's Basilica earlier on Monday, the Pope said the image of the baby Jesus in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.

At that mass a member of the congregation read a prayer in Arabic asking God to encourage ``a spirit of dialogue, mutual understanding and collaboration'' among followers of the three great monotheistic religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Worship God Not Technology, Pope Says on Christmas,






























Independent Appeal:

What would happen

if the Virgin Mary

came to Bethlehem today?'

Johann Hari on the plight
of pregnant women in the West Bank,
where babies are dying needlessly


Published: 23 December 2006
The Independent


In two days, a third of humanity will gather to celebrate the birth pains of a Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem - but two millennia later, another mother in another glorified stable in this rubble-strewn, locked-down town is trying not to howl.

Fadia Jemal is a gap-toothed 27-year-old with a weary, watery smile. "What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today? She would endure what I have endured," she says.

Fadia clutches a set of keys tightly, digging hard into her skin as she describes in broken, jagged sentences what happened. "It was 5pm when I started to feel the contractions coming on," she says. She was already nervous about the birth - her first, and twins - so she told her husband to grab her hospital bag and get her straight into the car.

They stopped to collect her sister and mother and set out for the Hussein Hospital, 20 minutes away. But the road had been blocked by Israeli soldiers, who said nobody was allowed to pass until morning. "Obviously, we told them we couldn't wait until the morning. I was bleeding very heavily on the back seat. One of the soldiers looked down at the blood and laughed. I still wake up in the night hearing that laugh. It was such a shock to me. I couldn't understand."

Her family begged the soldiers to let them through, but they would not relent. So at 1am, on the back seat next to a chilly checkpoint with no doctors and no nurses, Fadia delivered a tiny boy called Mahmoud and a tiny girl called Mariam. "I don't remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital," she says now. For two days, her family hid it from her that Mahmoud had died, and doctors said they could "certainly" have saved his life by getting him to an incubator.

"Now Mariam is at an age when she asks me where her brother is," Fadia says. "She wants to know what happened to him. But how do I explain it?" She looks down. "Sometimes at night I scream and scream." In the years since, she has been pregnant four times, but she keeps miscarrying. "I couldn't bear to make another baby. I was convinced the same thing would happen to me again," she explains. "When I see the [Israeli] soldiers I keep thinking - what did my baby do to Israel?"

Since Fadia's delivery, in 2002, the United Nations confirms that a total of 36 babies have died because their mothers were detained during labour at Israeli checkpoints. All across Bethlehem - all across the West Bank - there are women whose pregnancies are being disturbed, or worse, by the military occupation of their land.

In Salfit, on the other side of the West Bank, Jamilla Alahad Naim, 29, is waiting for the first medical check-up of her five-month pregnancy. "I am frightened all the time," she says. "I am frightened for my baby because I have had very little medical treatment and I cannot afford good food ... I know I will give birth at home with no help, like I did with Mohammed [her last child]. I am too frightened to go to hospital because there are two checkpoints between our home [and there] and I know if you are detained by the soldiers, the mother or the baby can die out there in the cold. But giving birth at home is very dangerous too."

Hindia Abu Nabah - a steely 31-year-old staff nurse at Al Zawya Clinic, in Salfit district - says it is "a nightmare" to be pregnant in the West Bank today. "Recently, two of our pregnant patients here were tear-gassed in their homes ... The women couldn't breathe and went into premature labour. By the time we got there, the babies had been delivered stillborn."

Many of the medical problems afflicting pregnant women here are more mundane than Jamilla's darkest fears: 30 per cent of pregnant Palestinians suffer from anaemia, a lack of red blood cells. The extreme poverty caused by the siege and now the international boycott seems to be a key factor. The doctors here warn grimly that as ordinary Palestinians' income evaporates, they eat more staples and fewer proteins - a recipe for anaemia. There is some evidence, they add, that women are giving the best food to their husbands and children, and subsisting on gristle and scraps. The anaemia leaves women at increased risk of bleeding heavily and contracting an infection during childbirth.

Earlier this year, conditions for pregnant women on the West Bank - already poor - fell off a cliff. Following the election of Hamas, the world choked off funding for the Palestinian Authority, which suddenly found itself unable to pay its doctors and nurses. After several months medical staff went on strike, refusing to take anything but emergency cases. For more than three months, the maternity wards of the West Bank were empty and echoing. Beds lay, perfectly made, waiting for patients who could not come.

In all this time, there were no vitamins handed out, no ultrasound scans, no detection of congenital abnormalities. Imagine that the NHS had simply packed up and stopped one day and did not reopen for 12 weeks, and you get a sense of the scale of the medical disaster.

Some women were wealthy enough to go to the few private hospitals scattered across the West Bank. Most were not. So because of the international boycott of the Palestinians, every hospital warns there has been an unseen, unreported increase in home births on the West Bank.

I found Dr Hamdan Hamdan, the head of maternity services at Hussein Hospital, Bethlehem, pacing around an empty ward, chain-smoking. "This ward is usually full," he said. "The women who should be in this hospital - what is happening to them?"

They have been giving birth in startlingly similar conditions to those suffered by Mary 2,000 years ago. They have delivered their babies with no doctors, no sterilised equipment, no back-up if there are complications. They have been boycotted back into the Stone Age. The strike ended this month after the PA raised funds from Muslim countries - but the effects of stopping maternity services are only now becoming clear. Hindia Abu Nabah says: "There is a clear link between the deteriorating health situation and the international boycott.

Amid this horror, one charity has been supporting pregnant Palestinian women even as their medical services fell apart.

Merlin - one of the three charities being supported by the Independent Christmas Appeal - has set up two mobile teams, with a full-time gynaecologist and a paediatrician, to take medical services to the parts of the West Bank cut off by the Israeli occupation. They provide lab technicians and ultrasound machines - the fruits of the 21st century.

I travelled with the team to the Salfit region - scarred by Israeli settlements pumping out raw sewage on to Palestinian land - to see women and children desperately congregating around them seeking help. Amid the dozens of nervous women and swarms of sickly children, Rahme Jima, 29, is sitting with her hands folded neatly in her lap. She is in the last month of her pregnancy, and this is the first time she has seen a doctor since she conceived.

"The nearest hospital is in Nablus, and we can't afford to pay for the transport to get there through all the checkpoints," she says, revealing she is planning - in despair - to give birth at home. Even if she had the cash, she says she is "too frightened of being detained at the checkpoint and being forced to give birth there". She sighs, and adds: "I will be so relieved to finally be seen by a doctor, I have been so worried." But when she returns from seeing the doctor, she says: "I have anaemia, and they have given me iron supplements," supplied by Merlin. She can't afford to eat well; she lives with her husband and four children in a room in her mother-in-law's house, and her husband, Joseph, has been unemployed since his permit to move through the checkpoints expired. "The doctor says I should have been seen much earlier in my pregnancy. My baby will probably be born too small."

All the problems afflicting these 21st century Marys are paraded in Merlin's clinic. One terrified, terrorised mother after another presents herself to the specialists here, and leaves clutching packs of folic acid, calcium, iron and medicine. Dr Bassam Said Nadi, the senior medical officer for this area, says: "I thank Merlin for the specialist care they have brought. Not long ago, we didn't even have petrol in our cars. Alongside other organisations, they are helping us survive this terrible period in our country's history."

Merlin can only maintain these mobile clinics with your help. Leaning in the doorway of her bare clinic, Hindia Abu Nabah says: "Tell your readers that we need their help. There are no Hamas or Fatah foetuses. They don't deserve to be punished. I couldn't stand to look another anaemic woman in the eye and tell her that her baby will be underweight or malformed and we don't have iron supplements to give her. I can't go back to that. I can't."

Independent Appeal:
'What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today?',






Leading article:

The little town that symbolises

the suffering of the Middle East

Bethlehem tells us something revealing.
There is an exodus of the people responsible
for what little prosperity there was


Published: 23 December 2006
The Independent


In one of the unfailing ironies of the place religious believers call the Holy Land, its most famous emblem of peace - the little town of Bethlehem - is once again a symbol of its troubles. Its economy is in crisis. Concerns over security are keeping many tourists away. Israel's security wall has cut the town off from much of its agricultural hinterland. Unemployment stands at 65 per cent. The West's financial boycott against the Palestinian Authority has meant no salaries have been paid at the municipality for four months.

It is a complex business. The wall reflects legitimate Israeli security concerns; half the suicide bombers in 2004 are said to have come from Bethlehem. And, although Israel ceased its military activity in the Gaza Strip a month ago, Palestinian militants continue to launch rockets against Israel from there. On the other side, the recent escalation of internecine strife between the Palestinian factions has added to the tensions which have been building since voters ousted the corrupt Fatah leadership and replaced it with the more militant Hamas. Yesterday fierce gun battles raged between the two groups; some predicted all-out civil war.

But Bethlehem tells us something revealing. The Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, who arrived there on a Christmas pilgrimage earlier this week, have expressed concern - not just at the barrier which is "strangling" the place, but also at the flight of Christians from the town. Christians constituted more than 85 per cent of the population in 1948; today they make up just 12 per cent. This matters because it is the Christians who own most of the town's hotels, restaurants and shops. Throughout the West Bank and Gaza there is an exodus of the middle classes responsible for what little prosperity there was.

Prosperity for Palestinians holds the key to peace. A meeting is urgently needed between President Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. They have a lot to discuss. High on the agenda must be the rocket attacks on Israel and the Israeli incursions into the Palestinian territories. They must also make progress on the release of Palestinian prisoners, in which they would be assisted by Hamas freeing the Israeli soldier they captured last June. To do so would be an important signal from Hamas that it intends to continue to move along the path of political realism it adopted by contesting the elections in the first place. But their guiding strategy must be to give the Palestinians the prospect of prosperity. Mr Olmert needs to look beyond short-term security considerations and ease those Israeli restrictions that are hampering the organic growth of the Palestinian economy. A new horizon of prosperity, even more than symbolic political gestures, is essential to dispelling the sense of despair that grips so many Palestinian youths.

Shifts are needed internationally too. The recent Baker-Hamilton plan called for movement in US policy on the Israeli/Palestinian problem. President Bush needs to heed that. And the European Union, which has salved its conscience in the past by giving more aid to charities working with Palestinians, needs to get off the fence and apply some political pressure to Israel.

In the midst of it all, the innocents - terrified children, disabled people, women cut off from hospitals by security checkpoints - continue to suffer. Two of the three charities for which we are raising money in our Christmas appeal this year work with such people. Supporting them is the only gesture of solidarity open to most of us. We exhort our readers to be generous in their giving. In the end, though, personal hopes must be allied to politics. If there is anything good in the present flux it is that it offers a chance to find new ways forward.

Leading article:
The little town that symbolises the suffering of the Middle East,
I, 23.12.2006,






Pope Worries About Clash With Islam


December 22, 2006
Filed at 12:06 p.m. ET
The New York Times


VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged intensified dialogue with Islam, saying in a Christmas speech that 2006 will be remembered as a year marked by the danger of a clash between cultures and religions.

Benedict compared the situation in the Muslim world to that faced by Christians beginning in the Enlightenment, the 18th-century movement to promote individual rights, including freedom of religion.

''We Christians feel close to all those who, on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, commit themselves against violence,'' the pope said.

Benedict enflamed many in the Muslim world in September with a speech in which he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as ''evil and inhuman,'' particularly ''his command to spread by the sword the faith.''

The pope later expressed regret that the words caused offense and stressed they did not express his personal opinion.

In his speech Friday to the curia, or Vatican bureaucracy, he said 2006 bears ''the deep imprint of the horrors of the war waged in the Holy Land area as well as generally of the danger of a clash between cultures and religions.''

Benedict also reviewed many of the world's problems as well as important issues for the Church, including celibacy for priests and opposition to gay marriage and legal protection for unmarried couples.

''I cannot silence my worry about the laws on unmarried couples,'' Benedict said. ''Many of these couples have chosen that road because, for the time being, they don't feel up to accepting'' the legal bonds of marriage.

Benedict insisted that the church's voice must be heard on such matters. ''If we're told that the church should not meddle in these matters, then we can only answer: should mankind not interest us?''

The pope also stressed the requirement for priests to be celibate, saying priests' lives must be centered around God and that celibacy must be ''a show of faith.''

    Pope Worries About Clash With Islam, NYT, 22.12.2006,






12 questions of Christmas

When exactly is Christmas Day?
Was there a Star of Bethlehem?
Could Santa deliver gifts to all the world's children?
What are the chances of a White Christmas?
How far has your Christmas dinner travelled?
And do reindeer ever have red noses?


Published: 24 December 2005
The Independent


When exactly is Christmas Day?

By Robert Verkaik

No one knows when Jesus was born. Early Christians tried to calculate the date of Christ's birth based on the Annunciation, 25 March, the Bible's first account of when Mary was told she was pregnant. If this is taken as the conception of Christ, nine months later it is 25 December.

But Jewish tradition has it that Jesus was born during Hanuk-kah, 25 Kislev into the beginning of Tevet. In the Julian calendar, 25 Kislev would be 25 November.

Others say Jesus and Mohammed shared the same birthday. Mohammed was born on the 12th of the Muslim month of Rabi-ul-awal in the 7th century which this year was celebrated in April. Muslims use a lunar calendar, so Mohammed's birthday will eventually fall in December. Most Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

Christmas was first celebrated on 25 December in the 5th century in the time of the Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. This date was probably chosen because the winter solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festival called Saturnalia was in December. The winter solstice is the day with the shortest time between the sun rising and setting. It falls between 22 and 25 December.




Was there a Star of Bethlehem?

By Cahal Milmo

Opinion is split on just what the Magi were looking at when, according to gospel of Matthew, they saw the star of the king of the Jews in the eastern sky and set off for Bethlehem.

Some historians argue that the light is entirely mythical - part of a series of "stars" that legends of the time described as heralding a royal birth.

Astronomers have pored over the question for centuries, exploring theories that the star was a comet or a supernova.

This week a British astronomer, Professor Mike Bode suggested that what the Three Kings saw was not a star at all but a "conjunction", the passing of two planets so close to each other that they appear as a single light source. Professor Bode calculated that, in June of 2BC, Jupiter and Venus passed close together and would have created a bright object.

Some scholars argue that the date of Christ's birth is actually June, based on references to his conception. But even with the conventional December date, Jupiter appears a strong candidate for the Star of Bethlehem.

But believers in a second coming may struggle for a new celestial signal of salvation. Light pollution, caused by the upward glare of electric lights, is making it increasingly difficult for earthbound telescopes to penetrate the heavens. A modern Magi would probably have to rely on satellites rather than the firmament to locate an infant saviour. During the 1990s, the area of countryside in the developed world with completely dark skies reduced by 27 per cent.

Scientists estimate that less than half of the population of Europe and parts of the Middle East, including Israel and the West Bank, will ever see the Milky Way.

As a result, most observatories in the Western world have had to relocate to the much darker southern hemisphere or what is left of the dark countryside.




Is a Virgin Birth possible?

By Jeremy Laurance

The Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth is that Jesus was conceived in his mother's womb without a human father. The Immaculate Conception took place when the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" Mary. However, Christ was not created from nothing, as the church says he "took his flesh from Mary". The doctrine's importance to Christianity is that it shows Jesus's divine and human natures united, paving the way for all humanity to be united with God.

In scientific terms, a virgin birth is classed as parthogenesis - when an embryo grows and develops without fertilisation by a male. Parthogenesis occurs in some plants, insects, fish and vertebrate animals such as lizards. The resulting organism is a clone of the original because it has an identical genetic make-up. Parthogenesis does not occur naturally in humans or other mammals. However, modern scientific techniques have made it possible to create clones of mammals, beginning with Dolly the sheep in 1996. It would in theory be possible to create a child from a virgin mother whose sole genetic inheritance was from her.




Was Jesus black?

By Robert Verkaik

This question has preoccupied theologians since at least the end of the 19th century. What most concede is that he could not have been a white Caucasian as depicted in Western iconography. In Revelation he is said to have hair " like wool" which is used as evidence to show he was of African descent. The indigenous people of the Middle East at the time of Jesus's birth were mostly of African birth. The existence of Black Madonnas, dark-skinned images of Jesus's mother, Mary, have also strengthened the case for Jesus being of non-Caucasian descent. Jesus' male ancestors trace a line from Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Anthropologists believe they would have been of mixed race because of their time spent in captivity in Egypt and Babylon. The "black/white" argument is easily settled if one follows the American test of whether someone is racially "black". Under the " one-drop rule" if any person has any black ancestors he or she is considered "black" even if they have pale skin colour. Under this rule, Mariah Carey, LaToya Jackson and Jesus would all be classified as " black".




Could Santa deliver gifts to all the world's children in one night?

By Cahal Milmo

Of course he can, with help from Nasa, Einstein and 360,000 reindeer. Scientists have been wrestling with the feasibility of Santa's job description since the 1850s. The latest thinking is that delivering one kilogram of presents to the world's 2.1 billion children (regardless of religious denomination) is entirely realistic, with a little lateral thinking.

Scientists at the American space agency, Nasa, reckon the man from Lapland relies on an antenna that picks up electromagnetic signals from children's brains to know what presents they want. Assuming an average of 2.5 children per house Mr Claus must make 842 million stops tonight to fill his orders.

By allowing a quarter of a mile between each stop, he must travel 218 million miles with about a thousandth of a second to squeeze down each chimney, unload a stocking, eat a mince pie, swig cooking sherry and get his sleigh airborne again. To achieve this he must travel at 1,280 miles per second. Travelling east to west, he can stretch Christmas Day to 31 hours.

To have enough presents, Santa's sleigh must carry 400,000 ton of gifts. With the average non-turbocharged reindeer capable of pulling only 150kg, Father Christmas would need 360,000 reindeer to heave his vehicle skyward.

The cavalcade would have a mass of about 500,000 tons which, at the required speed, would cause each reindeer to vaporise in a sonic boom flattening every tree and building within 30 miles. Father Christmas would have a mass of two million kilograms, causing him to combust when his reindeer come to their sudden halt. Piffle.

First, Einstein's theory of relativity dictates that the faster an object travels, the slower time appears to pass. So at the speed he is travelling, .0001 of a second allows Santa to perform his tasks at leisure pace. Second, as an expert in quantum physics, Mr Claus knows wormholes in the fabric of universe allow him to move instantly from one dimension and place to another. His sleigh is a time-machine powered by an unknown fuel which any economy on the world would have on its Christmas list.




Is this the season of goodwill?

By Maxine Frith

The common perception is that the suicide rate always goes up over Christmas. But in fact, the number of people who kill themselves drops by around 7 per cent during December - although it then rises to its highest monthly rate in January.

Despite the reduction in suicides, calls to the Samaritans increase by 10 per cent between Christmas and New Year.

The murder rate also goes up by 4.2 per cent, partly due to the increase in domestic violence that is widely reported by police forces.

More than 8,000 children called the NSPCC or ChildLine phone lines between Christmas Eve and 4 January last year to talk about emotional problems and abuse. One in five people says that the festive period causes them stress, according to the mental health charity Mind.

And of the five million elderly people who live alone in the UK, one million will spend Christmas Day on their own.

A poll by Reader's Digest found that people's greatest irritation over the Christmas period is the plague of family grievances that the holiday season engenders.

More than a third said that they had to deal with arguments between relatives every year.

Even events out of the family home are not much better - half of office parties feature a punch-up and one in three with an incident of sexual harassment.




Do you ever get a Silent Night?

By Cahal Milmo

Only on the pages of a carol sheet and in the depths of galaxies.

The silence to which the hymn refers can only be found in a vacuum and, since human existence is difficult inside a Hoover, the only place where true silence can be found is space.

The result is the strange paradox that silence has no sound. For example, when sci-fi films excite their audiences with the familiar roar of a rocket blasting between the planets, they are lying - there is nothing to be heard between the stars and planets. The impossibility of silence is all the more perplexing because humanity is in increasingly dire need of it, or at least a bit more peace and quiet.

Experts believe that the high sound levels of modern society not only damage the human ear but also contribute to stress.

The European Environmental Agency calculated earlier this year that 450 million people, some 65 per cent of the population in Europe, are regularly exposed to noise levels of 55 decibels and above - the level shown to generate annoyance.

About 115 million experience 65dB and above, suffering an increased risk of high blood pressure, and 10 million are exposed to 75dB or more - a level known to generate high levels of stress.

The Health and Safety Executive says that a third of workers in noisy jobs will permanently damage their hearing.




What are the chances of a White Christmas?

By Cahal Milmo

Bookies yesterday put the odds of London receiving the requisite single flake of snow on the roof of a weather bureau in the capital that would make it a white Christmas at 5/2.

Officially, meteorologists put the chances of snow nationwide on Christmas Day at "very unlikely", although, by the middle of next week, there is a 60 per cent chance that southern England will be under several centimetres of the fluffy stuff.

The long-term outlook is somewhat different. Enjoy any December snow while you can for the white Christmas bonanza for turf accountants, who tend to profit to the tune of £1m from the lack of snow, is likely to be a quirk of history.

London has only had six white Christmases since 1957 and thanks to humanity's talent for producing carbon dioxide, the Dickensian festive scene will remain only on greetings cards.

Climatologists this week predicted that global warming would make snow in December a thing of the past for all of Britain apart from its highest mountains and more northerly climes.

Scientists at the Met Office calculate that winters will be up to 30 per cent wetter within a generation, with an average rise in temperature of up to 3.5C by 2080. A Met Office spokeswoman said: "We won't see the effects immediately but the trend is that snow levels will drastically fall over the next century."




Is Christmas bad for the environment?

Martin Hickman

Yes. People consume far more at Christmas than at other times of the year.

Gifts are made at factories that use lots of energy and contribute to global warming. Finite and diminishing natural resources such as metals go into them. In particular, plastics use a high amount of oil, yet these goods are often poor quality and disposable, something especially so for toys at Christmas.

Transporting these products to the shops results in more energy use and pollution.

Intensive food production to sate our festive appetite discourages wildlife and allows pesticides to leach into streams and rivers.

About three million tons of rubbish will build up in our homes, yet barely a quarter will be recycled. The remainder will be incinerated or dumped in landfill, both of which cast out pollutants. Friends of the Earth believe that this Christmas is likely to generate a record amount of waste because each year we buy more and more presents and food.

The only bright spot environmentally is that while we are stuffing our mouths with food or ripping open our presents (wrapped with disposable paper), we are not jumping into our cars and spewing pollution from the exhaust pipes. Or working in factories to supply goods for the next Christmas.




How far has your Christmas dinner travelled?

By Maxine Frith

According to the Soil Association, most of the meat and vegetables on the average Christmas dinner plate will be cheap imports. The turkey may have come from Norfolk, but your carrots are likely to have come from Morocco, the crackers from China and the Brussels sprouts from the Netherlands. When you add in cabernet sauvignon from Chile, cranberries from the US and runner beans from Guatemala and assorted goods, the total "food miles" bill comes to 43,674. The Soil Association estimates that 12 British farmers are going out of business every day because they cannot compete with cut-price foreign goods.

The transportation by air of 200g of Chilean grapes will generate 1.5kg (3.3lb) of greenhouse gas - equivalent to leaving a lightbulb on all weekend. But, while buying locally sourced food could save Britain £2.1bn in environmental and congestion costs, it could double the average bill because of the higher prices charged by small and organic producers.




Is Christmas unhealthy?

By Jeremy Laurance

Christmas lunch of turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing, bacon, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and gravy adds up to 620 calories. Follow it with Christmas pudding and cream and the calorie counter zooms up to 1,306.

With a glass of champagne, (100 calories) a couple of glasses of burgundy (90 cals each) and a glass of port (185 cals), the total leaps to 1,771 calories. Once a year, a blow out on this scale - a day's worth of calories at a single sitting - is unlikely to do any lasting harm. But if you keep it up over the holiday period you will inevitably put on weight.

There are some health benefits too though. The sprouts and carrots contribute to the five-a-day target for fruit and vegetables, the cranberries may help to ward off infections and alcohol in moderation cuts the risk of heart disease. But the greatest health benefit of Christmas is - or should be - the good cheer it generates.




Do reindeer ever have red noses?

By Cahal Milmo

The notion of reindeer and red noses - or more to the point the infernal tune that assails Christmas shoppers - can be blamed on Robert May, an advertising copy-writer in 1930s Chicago.

Mr May was commissioned by his company to invent a seasonal tale to give away to customers of a department store chain and the resulting yarn of Rudolph, the disfigured ruminant, sold six million copies. Mr May never made a penny from his invention because the copyright belonged to his employer.

But recently researchers discovered that there is in fact such a thing as a red-nosed reindeer. Scientists in America found that reindeer were susceptible to a particular type of mite which irritates the nasal passages and causes the animals to rub their noses raw.

12 questions of Christmas,
I, 25.12.2005,










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