The census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus was the first of its kind. It was done because the Roman Government wanted to make sure that everyone in the Empire was paying their taxes correctly. The census was carried out all over the Empire. This meant that families had to register in their native town rather than in the town where they lived. This also meant that Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as this was the town that Joseph’s family originally came from – a journey of about 112 kilometres.
The journey would have taken about three days and they arrived in the evening. As many people had travelled to Bethlehem for the census, all the houses were full. So Joseph and Mary had to spend the night with the animals in a stable, cave or even a covered market stall. It was the custom in those times to wrap a new born baby very tightly in long bandages called swaddling clothes. The arms and legs of the baby were also wrapped, so they couldn’t move. This was done because they thought it helped the baby to grow strong, straight limbs! And as no proper crib was available, the new baby boy was placed in a manger. This must have been an amazing scene, but was exactly how the angels had described things to the shepherds up on the hills surrounding Bethlehem!