The type of sheep in Israel is the “Awassi” sheep, a type of desert sheep. In Israel, the principal lambing season is December through January. It makes sense, since the winter in Israel is around 8 degrees Celsius, which is not too freezing cold. Something interesting to know!
Long ago, I accepted the idea that December 25 was probably not the actual date of Christ’s birth, that the real date was unknown but probably in the spring. Knowing the exact date doesn’t really impact the liturgical celebration, after all. It was just one more sad thing about being an adult, one more little bit of wonder gone from life.
Since then, I’ve become well acquainted with the historical evidence in favor of a date of December 25. The date can be derived historically from the dating of Zechariah’s entry into the temple to burn incense. It can also be derived theologically from the ancient tradition that a great prophet entered and left the world on the same calendar day. Thus, the Annunciation was determined to have occurred on the same day as the crucifixion, March 25. December 25 naturally follows nine months later. They are good arguments, held to strict standards of historical research and logic, within their own fields.
But neither ever quite satisfied my desire for something really concrete. One continual objection was that the shepherds in the fields at night were presumed to be attending to the dropping of lambs. And lambs didn’t drop in December. Lambs dropped in the spring, not the winter.
So, when yet another person asked “Why do we celebrate Christmas in December if lambs are born in the spring?” instead of explaining the significance of March 25, I suddenly wondered: ARE lambs actually born in the spring in Israel? Can I find out?
The Awassi sheep is a desert sheep, a fat-tailed breed that has existed in the Middle East for an estimated 5,000 years. It is the only indigenous breed of sheep in Israel. They are raised for wool, meat, and milk. Awassi sheep breed in the summer and drop lambs in the winter, when there is sufficient pasture for the ewes in milk. In Israel, the principal lambing season is December through January.
This is practical, I thought. This is fact. This is biology.