Bethlehem was the inheritance center for David’s descendents and therefore many residents were in some way related to Mary and Joseph. Today as we travel around the country we can stay at well-prepared hotels or motels. Not so in the first century. Travelers more likely stayed in homes of relatives. The practice of hospitality in the Middle East’s cultures meant that weary traveling relatives always had a place to stay.
The term incorrectly translated from Greek into English as “inn” is a word used only twice in the New Testament. The other reference is Luke 22:11, where it refers to a “guest room” for Jesus and the disciples to eat the Passover (last supper).
It seems more likely that Mary and Joseph intended to stay in the homes of their Bethlehem relatives, only to find other relatives had arrived for the census and occupied the “guest room.” The only room available was the room reserved for the animals. The animals were out grazing in the fall fields prior to the season requiring winter warmth and protection.
The months from September to November are the harvests of grapes (August), figs (August-September), pomegranates (September), green and black olives (September-early November). Wheat and barley are sown in November, anticipating a spring harvest.
The months of August through October would provide the sheep and goats time to graze in the fields without destroying the cash crops. Sheep like to graze among the fig trees in the fall. To freely graze in the spring among the farmers’ crops of barley and wheat would be unthinkable.
While snow is not an uncommon event in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a December birth does not fit the Gospel accounts. The animals grazing among the fall foliage would leave the “stable” empty for weary family travelers looking for a place to stay.
While not wanting to shatter our fond Christmas memories, perhaps the true Christmas season is not a time of a winter wonderlands with gentle snowflakes filling the air, but of pleasant fall evenings, with the breezes singing in harmony in anticipation of the birth of God’s son.