Did they really need a manger?


I’ve been thinking about Mary and Joseph. Yes I know those of you who know me might be surprised by this, given I am an atheist. But this is obviously a story that’s being told a lot at this time of year. Whether I think it happened or not is kind of irrelevant. It’s a significant story, and part of our cultural heritage. My daughter just played the donkey in her school nativity and understandably talks about it. It’s an important story and one that continues to be told again and again.¬†Besides all of that, I’m a birthworker and any story surrounding babies and birth, is of interest to me.

Most paintings of the nativity represent the baby Jesus on display in the manger (These are contemporary representations and the bible account of Jesus’ birth is more vague and quite different).¬†A crowd of admirers gather around and watch his every move. You can almost feel the oxytocin. Who doesn’t love to admire a baby? It must be the doula in me, but something about this niggles in the back of my head.

I just have one question. Did they really need a manger?

This is not meant to offend anyone or pick on the Christmas story. I’m just wondering where the manger came in and why?

Were cots commonplace among Jewish people in the middle east at this time? Maybe a historian can fill me in. I don’t know about you but if I had just free-birthed in a stable, I’d be snuggling down in the hay and keeping my baby next to me.

Everything we know about skin to skin and an undisturbed first hour of birth isn’t new. Yes the research is new (http://www.cochrane.org/CD003519/PREG_early-skin-skin-contact-mothers-and-their-healthy-newborn-infants) but the knowledge is old. Before the modern medicalised model of birth, this is what mothers instinctively did. Our babies were carried in cloth and kept close to us. We didn’t pass them around, we didn’t sleep apart. We weren’t away from them.

Lets say for arguments sake that had they been at home in Nazareth, Joseph would have built a cot for the baby, and that that was the normal way of things. After travelling hundreds of miles across the desert to a strange place and being refused entry to a cosy place to labour, would you really want to be apart from your baby? Would you be searching for somewhere to put them down so desperately?

I like to think the paintings may have got it wrong. Mary would have kept her boy close and nursed him. Kept him warm against her chest when the visitors came bearing gifts. And when it was time to rest, I like to think she snuggled down in the stable and curled her arms and legs around him, drifting off into cholecystokinin-induced slumber.

What do you think?