santaIf ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ was born on Christmas Day, then if the scientists and astronomers are right, it is likely that this will have been on June 17th rather than the 25th December that most of us associate with it. As The Daily Telegraph explained:

…researchers claim the ‘Christmas star’ was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single “beacon of light” which appeared suddenly.

If the team is correct, it would mean Jesus was a Gemini, not a Capricorn as previously believed.

Australian astronomer Dave Reneke used complex computer software to chart the exact positions of all celestial bodies and map the night sky as it would have appeared over the Holy Land more than 2,000 years ago.

It revealed a spectacular astronomical event around the time of Jesus’s birth.

Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the ‘star’ to Christ’s birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.

Using the St Matthew’s Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.

The astronomy lecturer, who is also news editor of Sky and Space magazine, said: “We have software that can recreate exactly the night sky as it was at any point in the last several thousand years.

“We used it to go back to the time when Jesus was born, according to the Bible.

“Venus and Jupiter became very close in the the year 2BC and they would have appeared to be one bright beacon of light.

“We are not saying this was definitely the Christmas star – but it is the strongest explanation for it of any I have seen so far.”

Somewhat less authoritatively, The Daily Mail preferred:

It may not be too late to send the presents back, as astronomers have calculated that Christmas should not be celebrated on December 25 – but on June 17 instead

I’m guessing that most people realise that the 25th December is something of an arbitrary date, chosen to be representative rather more so than accurate in terms of when Jesus was born. But having read the latest report from the think-tank, Theos, I’m not sure that people in Britain have that level of understanding.

The research set out to find out what Britons knew about the Christmas story. From the findings, only 12% have a detailed knowledge of the nativity story. Having said that, certain parts are better known than others: 73% knowing about the appearance of an angel to Mary, the same number able to name Jesus’ birthplace.

Numbers drop significantly when asked about those elements of the nativity that have not yet been sung about by Cliff Richard in a Christmas number 1: both ‘Saviour’s Day’ and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ were very poor in theological content I hasten to add. Consequently, only 48% know that John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. A mere 22% aware that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

Knowing the story however doesn’t necessarily mean that people believe it. On this point, the report suggests that just over a third of people believe the statement “Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary” as being historically accurate. Conversely, 32% consider it entirely fictional. However, somewhat surprisingly, more people believe in the virgin birth than they do angels, a mere 28% believing that angels visited the shepherds – a staple of the traditional school nativity play – compared to the 32% who believe it fictional.

In terms Jesus’ birth as celebrated on Christmas Day, 52% agree or strongly agree that it is significant to them on a personal level. Of these, 57% of people – with an emphasis on women – celebrate the day as a religious festival. The same findings though also suggest that 48% of men and 36% of women do not do so. As a country however, 72% do believe that Jesus’ birth is culturally significant, evidence of which – or so the report suggests – can be seen in the growing popularity of carol services: 44% of the population allegedly planning to attend a Christmas church service this year.

Given that the 2001 Census suggested that 73% of the population were ‘Christian’, there is of course some disparity between numbers and belief as well as numbers and practice. I note this not because of any particular point but to illustrate how being ‘Christian’ is contemporarily much more a marker of identity than indeed it would appear, one of religiosity. Without belief and practice, I personally find it difficult to understand what exactly being ‘Christian’ means. But to many in today’s Britain, varying levels of adherence and association are in many ways irrelevant, picking and mixing the elements of religion, religiosity and spirituality that are most relevant and conducive to their own end goal.

And so to help all those either struggling with their knowledge of the nativity story or those who want to embolden their identity as being Christian, I reproduce the words from the Boney M Christmas number 1, “Mary’s Boy Child” duly apologising for any misleading statements or inaccuracies about dates and/ or other facts:

Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day.
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.

Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say,
Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day.

Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today,
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.
Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day.

While shepherds watch their flocks by night,
they see a bright new shining star,
they hear a choir sing a song, the music seem to come from afar.

Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today,
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.

For a moment the world was aglow, all the bells rang out
there were tears of joy and laughter, people shouted
“Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace.”

Now Joseph and his wife, Mary, came to Bethlehem that night,
they found no place to bear her child, not a single room was in sight.

Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today,
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.
Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day.

Oh a moment still worth was a glow, all the bells rang out
there were tears of joy and laughter, people shouted
“let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace”

‘The 12 Posts of Xmas’ are a series of posts that will be published between 1 December and 25 December 2008. From tales of woe through humour to mere rants, each post is based around a classic Christmas song and is accompanied by a festive image of times gone by…!!! This particular post is highly derivative of my December column for The Birmingham Post.

Creative Commons License Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk

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