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Rick Steves Classroom Europe™ is a free resource allowing teachers to share the best of European art, history, and culture with their students and fellow educators.

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The Christmas Story, as Told in Great Art (3:02)

Europe

We see how artists throughout time have interpreted the Christmas story in art: the Annunciation, Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging, the birth in the manger, the proclamation of angels, and visits by shepherds and Wise Men.

Complete Video Script

While each European culture gives Christmas its own special twist, they all follow the same story of how the son of God was born on earth — as told in the Bible and illustrated over the centuries by great artists.

The Christmas story begins with the Annunciation: an angel, sent from God with a message for a young woman, whose name was Mary. And the angel said, ‘Fear not, for thou shalt bring forth a son, and you will name him Jesus. And he shall be called the Son of the Most High and his kingdom will have no end.'’

And it came to pass, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, went to Bethlehem to be taxed, with Mary who was expecting a child.

And while they were there, she brought forth her firstborn son, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord came to them, and said, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born on this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'’

And suddenly there was a multitude of angels proclaiming: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all.'

And the shepherds said, "Let us go to Bethlehem" where they found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Now after Jesus was born, there also came Wise Men. And a glorious star, which they saw in the east, went before them. Guiding them, it stood over where the child was.

The wise men knelt down and worshipped the child, giving him gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The long-awaited Messiah had arrived.

This is the story that Christians have celebrated through the ages. We don't really know on which day Jesus was born. Historians argue it was likely in the spring, as shepherds were "tending their flocks." But, in the 4th century a pope declared December 25 to be the official birthday of Jesus. Why that day? Well Christianity was newly legal in the Roman Empire and the clever pope figured it would be smart if the biggest Christian festival coincided with the biggest pagan one — winter solstice. And throughout the land, people –Christians celebrating the birth of the son and pagans celebrating the return of the sun — have been rejoicing ever since.