Records from the early fourth century show that by then the 25th of December had been accepted as the date of Christ's Birth, the Nativitas Domini. This tradition lives on until the present day. The gospels of saint Luke and saint Matthew provide the most detailed account of the events at the time of the birth of Christ and they are therefore at the core of the visual, narrative and liturgical traditions of the Nativity cycle.
The son of God is born in a stable
" ... she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn ..." This short text has been visualized thousands and thousands of times. In the database we find two basic variants: one with the Virgin Mary lying in bed and saint Joseph seated at her feet; the other with Mary and Joseph kneeling in adoration for the Christ-child. Joseph, busy with a napkin, or a midwife who joins in the adoration, are details not found in the biblical text.
"...and there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field..."
Luke tells us how shepherds were informed by an angel about the birth of Christ. found the Christ-child lying in a manger. Together with the ox and ass, the shepherds, who were alerted to the miracle by angels, symbolized the modesty and universal appeal of the incarnate son of God.
The Three Wise Men (Kings) and the Massacre of the Innocents
Very soon after his birth, as Matthew tells us, three Wise Men (Kings) arrived. After these "...had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh..."
In biblical times knowledge of the stars was still ascribed to Wise Men from the east. Because of this authority, king Herod believed them when they told him about the Star of Bethlehem. However, after they had found confirmation of the star's message about the new king, they obeyed the angel who commanded them not to return to Herod.
To kill this new king, Herod gave orders to kill all boys under the age of two, an atrocity that is remembered as the massacre of the innocents. By that time, however, Joseph had been warned by an angel and the Holy Family had fled to Egypt.