Here is a fine Yuletide essay on the same topic from William Dalrymple. I can't think of a better thing to point to on the Sunday before Christmas.
There is a 16th-century manuscript in the British Museum which contains a painting of what - at first - looks like a traditional Nativity scene. In the middle is Mary holding the Christ child, whose arms are wrapped lovingly around his mother's neck. In the foreground, hovering nervously, are the Three Wise Men, ready to offer their gifts. So far, so conventional.
But look a little closer and you begin to notice just how strange the picture is. For the wise men are dressed as Jesuits, Mary is leaning back against the bolster of a musnud, a low Indian throne, and she is attended by Mughal serving girls wearing saris and dupattas. Moreover, the Christ child and his mother are sitting under a tree outside a wooden garden pavilion - all strictly in keeping with the convention of Islamic lore, which maintains that Jesus was born not in a stable, but in an oasis beneath a palm tree, whose branches bent down so that the Virgin could pluck fruit during her labour.
Read the whole thing.
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