QUESTION: What are some common misunderstandings about the Christmas story, especially which make it into Christmas carols? Did Mary ride on a donkey? Who were the three kings? Is “Xmas” trying to X Jesus out of Christmas? What do angels look like? What about the star?


ANSWER:  First of all, I want to say that I love Christmas music, even songs with minor inaccuracies (and songs agout Rudolph!). For instance, Hark the Herald Angels Sing is packed with great Christian doctrine, even though it has one minor inaccuracy: angels are never recorded in the Bible as singing!


"Angels singing": nowhere in the Bible are angels recorded as singing. This does not mean that they couldn't, but that they are never recorded as doing so. As for angels and the Christmas story, they are recorded as "saying" in Luke 2:13, not singing.

No donkey is mentioned in either of the detailed Nativity stories (Matthew and Luke). This is tradition.

 “We three kings from Orient are”: the "magi" from Matthew 2:1 are not kings, nor sages, but probably those trained in astrology to whom God, through His grace, communicated. Further, the Bible records 3 types of gifts, but there is no indication as to how many of them existed.

"The X in Xmas is designed to X Jesus out of Christmas." Actually the X is the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of Christos (Greek for Christ). Theologians have used the X (Chi) as an abbreviation for Christ for hundreds of years, and it is intended to give respect to Christ, not remove Him from Christmas. Thus Xmas is NOT sacreligious.

"Angels have wings." Actually, angels are described as looking like humans in the Bible, and are frequently mistaken for humans. Cherubs and Seraphs have wings, but they are different heavenly "critters," and not angels.

“There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn, rise up shepherds and follow”: (1) The star in the east was located in the east." The magi were in the east when they saw the "star," and they went west to find it. From Jerusalem they went south to Bethlehem, as the star guided them. No astronomical event could lead the magi west, then south, and then settle above the house where Jesus was. Any light in the sky which looked like what we call a star or a planet would have been called a "star." I see no reason that a ball of fire the size of the sun needed to be created/manipulated around the galaxy to guide these magi. The creator of the universe is certainly capable of putting a bright light "up there" that these guys could see--and it was likely close enough to the earth that they could get specific directions. (2) The magi followed the star, not the shepherds.

William P. "Bill" Griffin, Ph.D.


P.S. I write a lot of humorous and satirical songs, including many Christmas parodies. These can be found at