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The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings by Stephen Mitchell

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Essentials

Date of Publication: November 9th, 2021

Genre: Christian, Religion

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

“I love The First Christmas. What a charming way Stephen Mitchell has found to tell my favorite story of all, the Nativity, character by character (I love the donkey and the ox), with wise and thrilling interludes about God, reality, truth.” -Anne Lamott

In The First Christmas, Stephen Mitchell brings the Nativity story to vivid life as never before. A narrative that is only sketched out in two Gospels becomes fully realized here with nuanced characters and a setting that reflects the culture of the time. Mitchell has suffused the birth of Jesus with a sense of beauty that will delight and astonish readers.

In this version, we see the world through the eyes of a Whitmanesque ox and a visionary donkey, starry-eyed shepherds, and Zen-like wise men, each of them providing a unique perspective on a scene that is, in Western culture, the central symbol for good tidings of great joy. Rather than superimposing later Christian concepts onto the Annunciation and Nativity scenes, he imagines Mary and Joseph experiencing the angelic message as a young Jewish woman and man living in the year 4 bce might have experienced it, with terror, dismay, and ultimate acceptance. In this context, their yes becomes an act of great moral courage.

Readers of every background will be enchanted by this startlingly beautiful reimagining of the Christmas tale.


First Line:

It was snowing again as they arrived, the man and the girl. They had been on the road for six days, traveling fifteen miles a day except when she felt too unwell to continue.

the first christmas: a story of new beginning by stephen mitchell

When I agreed to read and review The First Christmas, I didn’t know what exactly I decided to review. I thought I would read a book about The First Christmas from the blurb that the author told from the POV of an ox and donkey. Then I reread the blurb and saw that the author would tell it from the ox and donkey and Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. At that point, I had already downloaded it from NetGalley, so that I couldn’t change my mind.

I did think that The First Christmas was an imaginative retelling of Christ’s birth. But, honestly, I could have done without the interludes in between each chapter. Not that they added insight (because they did), but I thought it dragged the book in parts. I didn’t care about the historical information behind each chapter. I also didn’t care about the “what ifs.” As I mentioned, I thought it made the book drag in places.

My favorite chapters were the ones with the Ox and the Donkey. They were two different animals with different views on the stable and the visitors. Those two chapters made me smile because animals are so innocent and pure. I liked the donkey’s history behind seeing angels. I did get a little laugh out of that.

The author did an excellent job of bringing this book to life. Each character had an individual voice and personality.

The First Christmas is not a book that I would usually read, and I probably will not read again. But, saying that, it was an interesting read, and I did enjoy reading it.

I would recommend The First Christmas to anyone over the age of 13. It is a clean book (no sex or swearing).

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