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The First Christmas: A Novel

The First Christmas: A Novel, October 2021
by Stephen Mitchell

St. Martin's Essentials
224 pages
ISBN: 1250790697
EAN: 9781250790699
Kindle: B08R2M9NHN
Hardcover / e-Book
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"A charming retelling of the Biblical Nativity, enhanced with folklore, literary works and art."

Fresh Fiction Review

The First Christmas: A Novel
Stephen Mitchell

Reviewed by Viki Ferrell
Posted November 11, 2021


THE FIRST CHRISTMAS: A STORY OF NEW BEGINNINGS by Stephen Mitchell opens with the innkeeper’s story of Mary and Joseph trying to find room at his inn. Something tells the innkeeper he needs to find them a space to stay, so he offers them a stable behind the Inn. The stable only houses one ox, who continues the story and tells about the birth of Jesus during the quiet of the night. The shepherds keep the story going with their tale of the angels visiting them and telling them to go to Bethlehem to see this baby.

Between each of these and other characters’ stories, the author places what he calls an Interlude, explaining how his story is slightly embellished or enhanced from the original, scant details recorded in the Books of Matthew and Luke in the Bible. Mary continues the story with a lengthy and imaginative description of all the things that led up to this point that she is pondering in her heart. Joseph then tells his story and the struggles he has faced in a seemingly impossible situation, as he wrestles with his feelings for Mary.

Mr. Mitchell continues with the Wise Men’s story, giving us a long history on them and then bringing them to the stable as “seers” who spend a few quiet moments “seeing” the entire life of Jesus unfold before them, both real and imagined. The donkey has the last word … oh yes, she reminds us that donkeys do indeed speak, as she regales us with the story of Balaam.

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS: A STORY OF NEW BEGINNINGS by Stephen Mitchell is a charming fictional mixture of the Biblical story of the Nativity, along with folklore and other literary works. Mr. Mitchell takes a lot of liberties in imagining delightful conversations between humans and angels and in supposing that animals can speak and tell their stories. He brings in many Old Testament prophecies and New Testament scriptures, as well as Jewish law in his character’s ruminations. He uses the works of several artists' depictions to enhance our imaginations of the Nativity story, to get us to think about how our own lives measure up. In the end, Mr. Mitchell tells us that Christmas isn’t just about what happened inside the stable, but what happens inside each of us that counts.

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“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.

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