History of Christmas: Nativity Season — Snow in Bethlehem?



You’ve seen those greeting cards that show Joseph along with Mary on the back of a donkey making their way to Bethlehem in the wintry snow.

Have you ever wondered: could Jesus have been born during the close of the year, perhaps even with snow on the ground?


Nativity Weather

Snow is not uncommon in this part of Palestine every 3 or 4 years. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, Bethlehem is in the desert. But desert means dry, not necessarily hot. Where I live in Colorado is officially the high desert, and we frequently have snow, although we’re at an elevation of 6,500 feet.

In early January 2013, there were 12 inches of snow across parts of Palestine, and 16–28 inches of snow fell in Jerusalem in December 2013. But the Biblical narrative doesn’t say there was snow on the ground.


Nativity Flocks

Beit Sahur

The Nativity story recounts,

“…shepherds watched their flocks by night…”

You may think that shepherds don’t usually have sheep on the hillsides during the Winter but in the Spring. And that would be correct in thinking that, usually.

But there were flocks of a special kind of sheep, those designated for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. They were kept all year round near Bethlehem at Beit Sahur, the “Place of the Night Watch.” Micah 4:8 provides a more precise location: Migdal Edar, or the “Tower of the Flock.”


Nativity Season

As mentioned in our previous article, we don’t know with certainty what time of the year the Nativity occurred. Two millennia ago, it was indeed rare to track the specific date of a person’s birth unless they were royalty.

Neither the gospel of Matthew nor Luke mentions either a specific year or time of year. Even early Christians favored recording the death date of martyrs. Matthew ties the Nativity to King Herod, who we know,  according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, died in 4 B.C., while Luke associates it with the census during the reign of Emperor Augustus

“when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was governor of Syria”

…around the same time.

While we have historical documentation that Christmas was celebrated on December 25th as early as the 3rd century in the Western Church, the Eastern Church celebrated their holiday on January 6th, known as Epiphany (or Theophany), with the visit of the Wise Men. We’ll look at the History of Epiphany in January.



Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. I have been in the Holy Land, when it was snowing and it certainly is not an annual event!

    • Thanks for the comment.


  2. Thanks to share this Bill Pietro ! I enjoyed to read evry words of it …

  3. Thank you for your wonderful information, I believe that you are to the point, keep sharing and help seekers like myself.
    I am Saved and believe the entire KJV of the Bible.

  4. thank you for the information. Now i can put some artificial snow around our Nativity scene for Christmas. a larger nativity scene we also have, i will place straw around that one. Both will look equally nice !

  5. Although Christmas gifts are most often exchanged on December 24th or 25th in America, around the world aren’t gifts often exchanged on Epiphany, Boxing Day and other days of the Christmas season?

    • Kenneth,

      That’s correct. However, Boxing Day is not really a substitute for Christmas. It is (or was) a big shopping day in the UK. Epiphany is celebrated widely by the Eastern (Orthodox) Church, as you’ll see in my article on Epiphany.


  6. Petro,

    Thank you very much… I’ve never read or heard it explained so completely and simply as You have stated it.

    Best Regards

    Big Jake

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