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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Very First Christmas
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful little book. It relates the Christmas story in a spiritual and historical context for children. It is a good introduction of the story of the birth of Jesus for children, since it explains a number of Biblical events in a way even a young child can understand their meaning. Nice illustrations, too.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This Gold Medallion Book Award title (for excellence in Evangelical Christian literature) is easy to overlook, since it appears to be yet another illustrated account of the birth of Jesus. Instead, what we have here is a recognized historian writing a kid-friendly book explaining some of the historical context of the Nativity story by having a mother answer her inquisitive child's many questions.
As Christopher's mom reads from gospel of St. Luke, chapter 2, she responds to her eight-year old son's questions about Caesar Augustus, registering for the census, why Joseph was not the father of Jesus Christ, why God chose Mary to be Jesus' mother, how old she might have been, where she lived, the lineage of King David, why Christmas is celebrated on December 25, what the stable was like, why there wasn't any room at the inn, why the shepherds were terrified at the sight of the angel, and how St. Luke knew "all this stuff."
This book is highly recommended to Christians of all traditions, as well as to non-Christian families who may be curious about what's really behind the Christmas story. As the author states in his brief introduction, many "children's Christmas books are often long on fancy and short on fact." I would agree when he says, "these pages...return the Christmas focus to where it belongs." The gospel story is no fairy tale, and here Paul L. Maier places it within the context of history, so children like Chris in this story can learn "about real people and real things that really happened."
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This beautifully illustrated book explains many things about the biblical story of Christ's birth that can confuse children -- such as, why weren't Mary and Joseph married when she got pregnant, why were they going to Bethlehem, and why didn't they just stay in a hotel? I felt it wasa bit complicated for my 5 year old -- he will benefit from it more in the years to come. If you like this book you'll also love the author's book on Easter.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
WARNING: Look carefully at the title listed above before ordering. Amazon is listing the same reviews for both Maier's "The First Christmas" and his children's book "The Very First Christmas." "The First Christmas" is NOT the children's book "The Very First Christmas" as suggested in most of the reviews and Amazon's own description. It is actually a book for adults. It is an interesting archaeological study of the story of Christmas, but it is NOT a children's book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As another reviewer noted, there are 2 First Christmas books by Paul Maier - "The Very First Christmas" which is for children, and "The First Christmas" which is for teens or adults. Unfortunately, Amazon combines the reviews for both, and the publisher's and editorial descriptions are confusing at best - publisher's description refers to the children's book (even for the "The First Christmas" adult book), and editorial description refers to the adult book (even for the "The Very First Christmas" children's book). And, the "Look inside the book" feature is not helpful either, as it depicts the "The First Christmas" adult book for both books. A very unfortunate mistake on Amazon's part. Or else the publisher was careless in the info they provided to Amazon.

Nevertheless, the books I've read by Paul Maier are very well written, informative, and illuminating. I would recommend this book - just be sure you are getting the particular version that you really want - kids or adults.

Update: upon actually receiving this book (hardcover edition), it is definitely NOT appropriate for young children. The text and storyline are too detailed for young (preschool or early elementary age) kids. It probably is most appropriate for kids around age 8 or older - which is different from what the "official" publisher/editor descriptions indicate.

The pictures are well done, so I could just "read" the book with my infant son and tell the story myself, or read the included Scripture portions (Luke 2 version) that are included on each 2-page spread. But I will probably not be giving this book to my son for Christmas as I had hoped.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Young Christopher is tired of fairytales, and wants his mother to begin reading real stories to him. With Christmas approaching, his mother comes to him with the Bible, to read him the story of the very first Christmas, as found in the Book of Luke. Together, they read the passage, and discuss many things.

This is a great book. The text of the story was simple enough for my 7-year-old son to understand, and I believe that his reading the story will have more impact than my reading it to him. The illustrations by Francisco Ordaz are absolute masterpieces, and add greatly to the impact of the story. I recommend this book 100%!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is about the birth of Jesus Christ and more. The book breaks apart each section of the story from the gospel of Luke. It's actually a story within a story of a mom teaching her son about the real meaning of Christmas. Your kids will learn about the naming of the months of July and August and the greek word for Carpenter, etc. It's a great book but for older kids. The illustrations are so life like. Well worth the money and it will be a book that can be read for years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book was not at all what I expected. It was not for young children first off. They were totally confused and had not interest in ever reading it again. It also did not give as much information about the reason we celebrate Christmas as I had expected. I'm not even keeping this book, I'm giving it away. The only reason I gave it two stars is because they tried to make a book about the real reason for Christmas.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon December 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Paul L. Meier has written many other books such as In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church,The Very First Easter,Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World, etc.

He wrote in Introduction to this 1991 (2nd edition 2001) book, "The wealth of information available from ancient history should... enrich our quest and help bridge the gap between what is secular and what is sacred in biblical antiquity. Such an approach can yield a fourfold benefit: 1. History and its related fields give us a means by which to 'check up' on the Bible, to gauge its accuracy... 2. From these different perspectives, we can see the biblical events in sharper focus and greater dimension... 3. Problems in the biblical text can often be solved by recourse to the other ancient disciplines. 4. Gaps in the biblical record can often be filled in by correlating outside evidence from antiquity... Using both sacred and secular evidence, then, this book tells the unfamiliar story of Jesus' birth by exploring the nooks and crannies of the past for fresh information and interesting sidelights on the Nativity... this Christmas documentary will aim to tell 'how it really was' in the world of the nativity..." (Pg. 10)

He suggests, "One day came news of the Roman emperor's edict requiring all of his subjects to enroll themselves for the census at their ancestral homes... Mary quickly realized that Augustus' decree very nicely solved two formidable problems for them. They could never go to Bethlehem and return again before Jesus' birth, so he would now have to be born in Judea, and any prying neighbors in Nazareth need never know that theirs was apparently a six-month baby... The other difficulty concerned the familar prophecy that the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem... Even though Joseph could probably have attended to the census obligations in Bethlehem alone, Mary had every reason to make the trip also." (Pg. 32)

He notes, "Unfortunately, it is not possible to work back to an exact date for Jesus' birth from any later information about his adult life." (Pg. 36) He admits about the census of Quirinius in Luke 2:1-2, "The solution, then, is merely to find the date for Augustus' imperial census, as well as the dates for the Syrian governor Quirinius's term in office. And how scholars have tried to do just that---an with with little success! ... when was he governor of Syria? Not until A.D. 6-7... which is eleven years too late for the Nativity census... In any case, Quirinius helps very little in any dating of the Nativity." (Pg. 36-37)

He contends against the notion that Luke 2:8 precludes the shepherds being outside with their flocks in December: "In many of the rural districts of Palestine, the flocks were not fed in pens but had to forage for their food in both summer and winter. During the great winter snowfall of 1910-1911 in Syria, hundreds of thousands of sheep died because snow covered the ground for weeks, interrupting their feeding... And Christmastime visitors to Bethlehem today tell of seeing shepherds out in the fields with their sheep, their heads muffled against the chilly weather in colorful keffiyehs." (Pg. 37-38)

About whether the Grotto of the Nativity could be the very place where Jesus was born, he argues, "the surprising answer lurks closer to PROBABLY than POSSIBLY. Where there is no direct archaeological evidence... nothing is more important establishing the authenticity of an ancient site than antiquity... Constantine the Great... erected the original Church of the nativity at this place in A.D. 326, over the very grotto that had been identified as the true site by the early church father Origen and, before him, Justin Martyr." (Pg. 45-47)

About the Star of Bethlehem, he suggests, "The following, then, is a possible astronomical reconstruction of what happened that first Christmas. The remarkable conjunctions of Jjupiter and Saturn in 7-6 B.C. alerted the Magi to important developments in Palestine... That the star went before them 'until it stopped over the place where the child was' need not imply any sudden visible movements on the part of the astral phenomenon. Because of the rotation of the earth, anything in the nightr sky appears to move westward as the night progresses... as people travel, the stars do seem to 'move' with them or before them, 'stopping' when they stop. So when it reached a zenith in the skies over Bethlehem, the gleaming blue-white start of Christmas would indeed have seemed to stop for the Magi as they reached their destination." (Pg. 60-61)

This is an excellent book that will provide helpful "background" for anyone wanting to know more about the Nativity stories.
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Format: Paperback
The Very First Christmas is a Gold Medallion Book Award winner. This award recognizes "excellence in evangelical Christian literature." In other words, it guarantees a great book! Written by Paul L. Maier, Ph.D. (professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University), this picture book is more than your typical account of Mary and Joseph. It is geared toward kids who really want to know the story, down to the details.

Chris, a boy of about eight years old, is filled with questions and wants to know the truth. He tells his mother: "I want you to tell me stories about real people and real things that really happened." She starts with the story of the very first Christmas. Chris thinks he already knows it, but when they pull out the Bible and begin to read, he realizes the story he knows is just the beginning. As they read the actual accounts, their dialog reveals an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Who was Caesar Augustus? Why was Mary pregnant if she and Joseph weren't married yet? Who was the father of Mary's baby? How old was Mary? Was Joseph really a carpenter? What year was Jesus born? Were the wise men at the stable? These are just some of the questions Chris asks. His mother lovingly offers answers when she can and estimated guesses when the Bible doesn't give specific answers.

Francisco Ordaz illustrated this book with life-like paintings filled with detail and color. His illustrating credits include contributions to films such as E.T. and Return of the Jedi.

What I Like: The accuracy! This book is filled with facts. It's wonderful! The illustrations are great, too. They're colorful and filled with detail. I also like the tone of the book. Chris's mother makes it comfortable to ask questions. She encourages it which helps kids want to ask more questions and get to the truth of this and other stories.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent!

Tanya -- Christian Children's Book Review
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