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Kids' Corner

Nativity Scenes or Horror Scenes?

Sad DonkeyChristmas is anything but merry for animals who are put on display in live Nativity scenes. Ostensibly used to add “authenticity,” donkeys, camels, sheep, and other animals in Nativity displays are exposed to cruel treatment and potential danger.

Animals used as props in seasonal displays are often exposed to temperature extremes, denied adequate exercise and space, and transported in substandard conditions. In addition to being stressful for animals, such situations can be dangerous or even deadly.

As evidenced by the following tragedies, animals used in Nativity scenes are magnets for abuse:

  • In West Virginia, a man was charged with raping a sheep at a Nativity scene.
  • A donkey named Brighty, who was used in a church Nativity scene in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was savagely beaten by three young men. Following the attack, Brighty was fearful of people and refused to socialize with other donkeys.
  • In Richmond, Virginia, dogs attacked the animals used in a church’s Nativity scene, mauling two sheep and causing a donkey to bolt into traffic, where he was hit by a car.
  • A camel named Ernie, who was part of a Nativity scene in Maryland, was killed by a car.
  • A sheep used in a Bedford, New Hampshire, Nativity scene was stolen and slaughtered.
  • More than 20 animals used by a Virginia business that “rents” animals for use in seasonal displays died when the barn where they were housed burned to the ground.
  • In Havana, Illinois, a camel used in Nativity scenes was injured when he jumped out of a horse trailer that was being towed at a speed of at least 55 mph.

There are far more entertaining, humane, and cost-effective alternatives to the use of animals in Nativity scenes. Statues or models of animals can be used instead. Some churches encourage children to dress up as animals and participate in the living Nativity with adults. In such cases, the story of the birth of Christ can even be told from the animals’ perspective. This way, the funds wasted by churches to lease animals for Nativity scenes could be better spent on food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, or toys for needy children.

The Christmas season is about peace and giving. Please help us ensure that this holiday season is peaceful for all beings.

What You Can Do

  • Never patronize a Nativity scene or any other event that displays animals.
  • If a church in your community uses live animals in its Nativity scene, please voice your objections to the church administration. Ask the church to institute a policy prohibiting the use of live animals.
  • If you find animals who are left without any shelter, food, or water or who are neglected or mistreated in any way, please contact your local humane society or animal control agency and ask that the matter be investigated. Local agencies’ phone numbers can be found in the blue pages of the telephone book.
  • One of the best tools that we have for educating the public is the letter to the editor. Please submit a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to help bring this issue to the attention of people who might not have given it much thought. Ask people to consider the cruelty involved in carting animals around, confining them, and forcing them to participate in Nativity scene exhibits and to refrain from patronizing such displays.


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