Time > Christmas > Nativity story
by Jim Scancarelli
December 25, 2011
3 December 2010
in the Holy Land
birthplace of Jesus
the Church of the Nativity,
West Bank town of Bethlehem
first constructed in the fourth
over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born
christmas-in-bethlehem.html - 2016
near the Church of the Nativity USA
St Catherine's church in Bethlehem
Grotto of the Nativity
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
Bethlehem's Manger Square
flanked by the Church of the Nativity at one end
and St Omar's mosque at the
The Latin Patriarch
the most senior Catholic figure in the Holy Land
The Nativity Story
art's best nativity scenes
Whatever your beliefs,
these Renaissance nativity scenes by artists
such as Piero della Francesca and Sandro Botticelli
are peaceful and beautiful.
Cartoons > nativity
Film > The
Nativity Story 2006
the infant Jesus
cartoons > Cagle > Nativity
The Epiphany of Our Lord /
Epiphany / January 6 / Three Kings' day / Twelfth Day /
the star of
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
on January 6th, or twelfth night,
the last of
the 12 days of Christmas
crèches / nativity scenes
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;
from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations;
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
19: Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,
and not willing to make her a
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,
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
The Guardian p. 29
Related > Gaza strip barrier / border wall
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin
6 December 2005
Pope Speaks of Solace
for ‘Tortured Regions’
December 25, 2007
Filed at 7:13 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
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
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
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’,
Pope Offers Christmas Prayers for Peace
December 25, 2006
Filed at 8:56 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
''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.''
Offers Christmas Prayers for Peace, NYT, 25.12.2006,
Worship God Not Technology,
Pope Says on
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
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
``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
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
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
``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
Worship God Not Technology, Pope Says on Christmas, NYT, 25.12.2006,
What would happen
if the Virgin Mary
came to Bethlehem
Johann Hari on the plight
of pregnant women in the West Bank,
where babies are dying needlessly
Published: 23 December 2006
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
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
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
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
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."
'What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem
today?', I, 23.12.2006,
town that symbolises
the suffering of the Middle East
Bethlehem tells us something
There is an exodus of the people responsible
for what little
prosperity there was
Published: 23 December 2006
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
Leading article: The little town that symbolises the
suffering of the Middle East,
Pope Worries About Clash With Islam
December 22, 2006
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
Pope Worries About Clash With Islam, NYT, 22.12.2006,
12 questions of Christmas
When exactly is Christmas Day?
Was there a Star of
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?
do reindeer ever have red noses?
Published: 24 December 2005
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
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
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
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
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
More than a third said that they had to deal with arguments between relatives
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
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?
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
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
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,
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