This is generally regarded as the beginning of the Christmas story in Western Christianity. Caesar Augustus, needing to revamp the Roman budget to maintain his supply of bread and circuses, sent out this emergency decree. I think he used Facebook, but this is an unconfirmed rumor.
And the rest of the story? Joseph the carpenter and his wife Mary, knocked up with someone else's kid, donkeyed it back to Bethlehem to pay their taxes and be counted. Not having thought to make reservations, they got stuck with holiday rates at their hotel and had to sleep with the animals in the barn.
The baby was born in rather unsanitary conditions 2010 years ago next Friday, started a new religion, got himself arrested, booked, and crucified at the age of 33, and redirected the course of history. As a result, the rest of us have spent 2010 years trying to get our Christmas shopping done on time, battling each other for the last goose in the shop, and writing off the last two weeks of the year as generally unproductive.
Christmas taxes, set in motion by Caesar, now include a huge tax on our patience. We mollify the effect by piping Christmas music into elevators, malls, and supermarkets. We repeat the mantra of ""Tis the season..." as a means of closing our eyes to the huge outlays we make at the end of each year in the run-up to Christmas. The decorations, the presents, the food, the this and the that. The frenzied bacchanal of consumerism, painted in red, green, and silver, manages to pass under the radar or Acceptable Nuisance when it is assuaged by Bing Crosby wishing for snow in California.
We have the snow now. Be careful what you wish for, Bing.
The unspoken phenomenon of the season is the Guilt. There are those of us, curmudgeons and belly-achers like myself, who appear to be immune to the creeping feeling of that we REALLY SHOULD be jolly and happy for Christmas. Amateur grumblers and grinches will worry that something is essentially wrong with them - if we are supposed to be happy, what have we done wrong? But the Professionally Cranky will disabuse you immediately of any such notions.
Christmas cheer is a perception game, they will tell you. Sure, many people are genuinely happy. Many join their families and do not argue. Many look back on the year before and are thankful for their blessings, forgive the guys who rear-ended their new cars, and stare dreamily at the Yule log in the hearth. Or the image of the Yule log on their screensavers.
We are perceived to be joyful and full of the 90 proof Christmas spirit. In order to be so perceived, we have to raise additional smiles and laughter. We have to sing a little more. And suddenly, we become confused as to the underlying motivation of the perception. Could it be that Grinch's small heart really did grow three sizes that day, breaking in the process that Grinch-heart measuring device?
So yes, it DID come to pass in those days just like they said. And maybe there is something to be said for making the effort (once a year is not so taxing) to be perceived as happy. And then maybe, just maybe, we might even pass imperceptibly from simulated Christmas Cheer in to the Real McCoy. Who knows? And, at the end of the day, does it really matter so much how we got there?
I wish you all perceptually and factually happy holidays!