Caesar’s Decree Repeats

Many parents will remember learning about the census when they were in school — in 1980 or 1990! This year, children at every grade level will be studying the census in their social studies, government, geography, and math classes. It’s a perfect opportunity for Christian parents to “tie in” the life of Jesus Christ to enrich their children’s “practical” education.

A Crash Course in Census 2000

Beginning in January 2000, the US Census Bureau will begin its house-to-house canvassing of sparsely-populated areas (including rural Alaska!) to confirm addresses it received from the US Postal Service. By mid-July, every household in the United States and its territories will receive a census form to fill out and return. The bureau will publicize the census through direct mail, paid advertising on TV and radio, and hundreds of special events in schools and community centers, encouraging everyone to participate. Get ready for a media blitz!

In the United States, a census is taken once every decade, as required by Article I, Section 3, of the US Constitution. Census data are used to “draw up” the voting districts for the House of Representatives and our state and local legislatures. The data collected are also used to allocate federal money for the building of schools, hospitals, and infrastructure (highways, water treatment plants, power plants, etc.) — in fact, at least $182 billion will be distributed for each of the next ten years based on Census 2000!

Two different census forms will be distributed beginning in March 2000: a short form and a long or “sampling” form. Both forms gather the names, genders, and ages of each member of the household, their racial background and Hispanic origin (that is, whether on not they are Spanish-speaking), and how long they have lived at their current address. The “sampling” form also asks about marital status, place of birth, employment status, income, educational background, service history in the armed forces, language(s) spoken at home, as well as information about the home itself: How many rooms? What type of heating? How many bathrooms?

The census forms and instructions will be available in 50 different languages, including Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, and Ukrainian.

The biggest controversy surrounding Census 2000 — sure to be discussed at the middle- and high-school level — has been the debate over the use of “statistical sampling” and the impact estimated counts could have on the party-leanings of the voting districts. The Supreme Court upheld section 195, title 13 of the United States Code prohibiting the use of statistical sampling for congressional apportionment on 25 January 1999, against a proposal by President Bill Clinton.

Additional resources for Census 2000, including downloadable census forms (both short and long, in 50 languages), historical data, and FAQ sheets, are available at

Joseph and Mary Go to Bethlehem

When the bureaucracy of the Roman Empire took a census, it required people to travel to their family’s “home city” to register, so no one would be missed or counted twice.

St. Joseph the Betrothed was descended from the house of David (see his lineage in Matthew 1:1-16), so he and his family were required to travel some 70 miles from their residence in Nazareth to Bethlehem to register. The city of Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem, was the birthplace of king David, and the home of Ruth and Boaz.

Here is the story from the Gospel:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.* So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with Child. (Luke 2:1-5)

It was during this trip that Mary gave birth to our Lord and Savior. On the eve of the Nativity, the Church remembers Caesar’s census as it sings:

When Mary conceived seedlessly, she was registered in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph as being of the seed of David. The time for birth came, and there was no room in the inn; the cave proved a fair place for the Queen. Christ is born to raise up the image that of old had fallen!
Troparion (Tone 4)

*Quirinius was known to have governed the Roman province of Syria-Cilicia from 6-9 AD. Biblical historians believe that St. Luke was referring to an earlier term of Quirinius, since the evangelist has “otherwise proved a most reliable historian.” (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 516)

Some Things to Do

Read the story of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ this year from the Gospel of Luke (chapter 2), being sure to emphasize why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. This is the “set up”!

Look for opportunities to remind your children of Caesar’s census while reviewing social studies homework about Census 2000, watching the evening news, etc. Discuss the following questions: What type of information is gathered in a census? Why did the founding fathers mandate regular censuses in America? Why did the Roman Empire order a census of Syria?

Take a census or inventory of your own: count dolls or beanie babies, neighborhood pets, or youth-group peers. Then discuss the following questions: Is it easier to count when all the “people” you’re counting are in a predictable place? What happens if someone moves around while you’re counting? Why were the residents of Syria ordered to go to their “home city”?

When your family’s census form arrives in the mail (as early as March), make two photocopies… then make it a family project to fill it out — once for YOUR family, and once for St. Joseph’s!

by Nichola Toda Krause

© 1999-2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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