Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night
I was reading an essay recently about the birth of Jesus, and even though my understanding of the story is purely mythological, it brings me comfort to think that Mary was surrounded by aunts and cousins - experienced mothers, when she birthed the Holy Child.
Let me back up - this is likely news to you all. Although we tend to depict them traveling alone, Mary and Joseph had traveled from Galilee with a caravan of family and neighbors, returning to Bethlehem to be counted with the census. In Bethlehem, there likely wasn’t an inn, much less a whole row of hotels for travelers - everyone stayed with family. And family homes in the Middle East in that era were largely one big common room - that housed the family (probably extended family) and their livestock at night, as well as providing cooking area and space just to live. If you’d been building your home long enough, you’d probably added a separate room for guests - which was already full the night Mary and Joseph came to town. The “no room at the inn” can also be translated as “Oh, someone’s in our guest room already”, but not to worry - as family, the young couple were welcomed into the family room. They needed a place to stay, and their cousins welcomed them in.
As Sarah Bessey notes, we transpose our Western values and lifestyle on top of the story. We think of traveling to ones’ ancestral home in groups of 2-4 people, encased in a steel box, hurtling down roads made of crushed rock and tar at speeds that match the world’s fastest animals. We think of the row of Motel 6 and Best Western signs at the exit. And we think of how we keep animals and have almost always kept animals in North America - in separate outbuildings built specifically for that purpose.
As a woman, if not a mother, I’ve always been disturbed by the lack of attendants at the birth of Mary’s baby, all the more so when I think about how young she was. (She could have been as young as 13, but most historians speculate that she was 15 or 16.) I find the idea that she was surrounded by people who welcomed them as family - which means there were cousins and aunts and grandmothers and great-aunts around, all of whom had birthed a baby before - to be a relief. Bethlehem being a large enough town for people to have to return to it to be counted, it’s very likely there was even a midwife present, even if there wasn’t one in the family.