Christmas has more traditions associated with it than any other holiday by far. Some of those traditions and beliefs are based on historical occurrences. Others, however, are based on myth. Here's a rundown, separating fact from fiction:
1. December 25 is Jesus' birthday. - MYTH - Nobody is certain when Jesus was born. They are not even very sure of the year, let alone the date. Besides, they didn't even use our modern calendar in those days. Based purely on biblical passages, however, most scholars set the year of his birth at 4 BCE, which is the year that Herod died. Also, since shepherds didn't watch their flocks by night except during the spring, if the account in Luke is to be believed, Jesus must have been born sometime in the spring.
2. Baby Jesus was visited by 3 wise men from the East - MYTH - The bible doesn't say how many wise men there were, nor does it say they visited him while he was a baby in the crib. Herod ordered the death of all children under the age of two, according to the bible, so that means Jesus could have been a toddler by the time the Magi came.
3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. - MYTH - Jesus was from Nazareth. Every passage in the bible that refers to where Jesus was from says that it is Nazareth except for the two birth narratives. Matthew and Luke (or the writers of their gospels) were compelled to find ways of placing Jesus' birth in Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, which claimed that the Messiah would be from the City of David.
4. The wise men followed a star in the east to the place where Jesus was born. - MYTH - First of all, according to the birth narrative in Matthew, a star was placed in the east to guide the magi. But the magi came FROM the East, so wouldn't they have to follow a star in the West? Even so, unbeknownst to the astrologers of the day, stars are sun-sized objects that are great distances from the earth. There is no way that one of them could have been low enough in the atmosphere for anyone to follow.
5. Jesus was born into a poor family. - FACT - It is most likely that Joseph and Mary were peasants. They lived in Nazareth, a very small, lowly, unimportant town in a backwater part of Galilee. It is highly likely that they were poor.
6. There was a real St. Nicholas at one time. - FACT - Nicholas was born in Turkey. He was very pious and often made presents for the children in his village. He was later named the patron saint of children, as well as sailors and voyagers.
7. The celebration of Christmas has always been associated with Christ and Christians. - MYTH - Although the holiday we now call Christmas was made up by the early Church in order to commemorate the birth of Christ, it was purposely associated with a pagan celebration. It was hoped that Christmas would eventually become more popular as Christianity grew and the pagan festival of Saturnalia would diminish. That's what happened. But not everybody was on board. The celebration of Christmas in colonial America was banned by law, as it was thought to maintain too much of its pagan heritage.
8. Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas is antagonistic to its meaning. - MYTH - The X looks like the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of Christ in Greek. The origin of Xmas was never meant as a slight to Christmas.
9. It is not proper nor appropriate for atheists or agnostics to celebrate Christmas. - MYTH - Since Christmas was celebrated as a pagan festival long before it was celebrated as a Christian one, and since even after Saturnalia became co-opted by the Catholic Church, Christmas has always had a secular side. There is no religious significance to Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, or candy canes, despite attempts to make stuff up about them. The modern version of Santa Claus is nothing at all like his real-life persona of St. Nicholas. Sleighs, Christmas cards, and presents bear no resemblance to what the Catholic Church had in mind when it invented the holiday. When evangelicals say we need to put the Christ back into Christmas, it means they don't know the history of the holiday. Christ was not always solidly involved. So regardless of your religion, or lack thereof, Christmas in today's America is for everyone to enjoy.
10. More money is spent on material items during the month prior to Christmas than any other month of the year. - FACT - Retailers generally make as much as 30 percent of their annual revenue during the holidays.