Home » Christmas Cardology (3): From Nazareth to Bethlehem

Christmas Cardology (3): From Nazareth to Bethlehem

Please read the short Introduction first.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him[1] and was expecting a child. Luke 2:1-5

While Mary was heavily pregnant with Jesus, she and Joseph travelled about 100 kilometres from Nazareth in Galilee (northern Israel) to Bethlehem in Judea (southern Israel).  This journey, at that time, would have normally taken 4 days, but could take as long as a week.[2]

Christmas cards often show Mary and Joseph looking like lonely figures, with Mary sitting on a donkey being led by Joseph.  However, it is unlikely that Mary and Joseph made the trip alone; it is much more likely that they travelled in a group with other travellers.[3]

It is also unlikely that Mary rode a donkey on her journey.  The unexpected jolts and bumps of the ride would have been hazardous to the unborn child.  Walking was a much safer option.  Furthermore a donkey would have been in high demand because many people were travelling at that time.  All over the Roman world people were travelling to their ancestral towns because of a census decreed by Caesar Augustus.

Whether walking, or riding on a donkey, the journey to Bethlehem would have been tiring and uncomfortable for Mary.  I have yet to see a Christmas card showing an exhausted and irritable Mary, dusty and disheveled from a long day of travelling.

Many situations surrounding the birth of Jesus were difficult for Mary and Joseph.  They were people of faith and obedience, but they were also ordinary, real people and some of these situations would have been a struggle.  Needless to say, unlike their portraits in some religious artworks, Mary and Joseph did not have halos, or an aura of holiness, hovering over their heads.

Throughout the Bible we see that God used ordinary people to achieve his extraordinary purposes.  God still uses ordinary people for his purposes.


[1] Joseph had taken Mary into his care as his wife but that they didn’t consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24-25).

[2] Mary appears to have been a fit and healthy young lady.  She had travelled previously from Nazareth to Judea at the beginning of her pregnancy, and returned to Nazareth three months later (Luke 1:26, 39, 56).

[3] Why is there no mention of family members travelling with Mary and Joseph?

© 8th of December, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

This article was first published at newlife.id.au here.

Other articles in this Christmas series here.

One Response to “Christmas Cardology (3): From Nazareth to Bethlehem”

  1. TL says:

    I especially appreciated noting these things. Without realizing the struggles Mary and Joseph went through, we lose sight of some of the sacrifices that were made to bring the Christ child to us.

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