And The Animals Agree: “Living Nativity” Scenes Are Not Fun

Editor’s Note: Staten Islander recently published a release from OETA requesting an end to living nativity scenes.  See the article here.  After publishing this story, a story appeared in the Huffington Post describing the escape and subsequent rescue of calves from a living nativity in South Carolina.  Following is PETA’s release and the letter sent to the church requesting and end to these cruel exhibits.  According to local news reports, the animals were rescued and returned to their farm. 

Carolina Beach, N.C. – After two calves escaped from a live Nativity scene at Seaside Chapel and were rounded up 16 hours later from the Cape Fear River, PETA LAMBS (“Least Among MBrothers and Sisters” from Matthew 25:40), the organization’s Christian outreach division, sent a letter today to Seaside Chapel’s pastor, Jerry Vess, urging him to take a lesson from Pope Francis—who celebrates the holidays with an animal-free Nativity—and keep animals out of all church events.

The group points out that even without harrowing escapes, animals used in Nativity displays are denied every comfort and joy: Cows, camels, donkeys, lambs, and others face a constant barrage of activity and unwanted touches and are often tethered and made to stand on hard surfaces for hours. Their handlers commonly threaten and intimidate them—many use abusive tools to make them obey commands out of fear of physical punishment. Terrified animals have tried to flee and been hit by cars, and unpredictable, easily stressed camels especially pose a danger to the public. With virtually no opportunity for mental stimulation or proper exercise, animals used for displays may even develop abnormal and self-destructive behavior, such as pacing, swaying, or bar-biting.

“Live animals don’t belong in church Nativity scenes any more than they belong in the pews or the pulpit,” says PETA Foundation Faith Outreach and Engagement Campaign Coordinator Candice Kelsey. “The holiday represents peace on Earth and goodwill to all, and PETA is urging Seaside Chapel and every other place of worship to show animals kindness by leaving them out of their displays.”

PETA LAMBS notes that Pope Francis recently prayed before a newly revealed Nativity scene at the Vatican using sculpted animals. Historically, there were no camels, donkeys, or any other animals near the manger—and in addition to its beautiful sets and in-character church members, Seaside Chapel could feature faux-animal props and animatronics in place of exploited live animals.

Churches can also honor the holy season by urging practitioners to ditch meat, eggs, and dairy; hosting vegan potlucks; replacing leather furniture and prayer books with cow-friendly versions; using candles made without tallow, paraffin, or beeswax; and encouraging everyone to adopt from animal shelters instead of supporting the cruel pet trade.

PETA LAMBS opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. The group’s letter to Vass is available upon request. Its motto, a variation of PETA’s, is “Animals are not ours. They’re God’s.”

The letter to the church:

“December 8, 2022
The Reverend Jerry Vess
Seaside Chapel
Dear Pastor Vess:

I’m writing on behalf of LAMBS, the Christian outreach division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA entities have more than 9 million members and supporters globally—in response to the news that two calves escaped from your “Journey to Bethlehem” event last weekend.

Luckily, despite fleeing on busy streets and wading into the Cape Fear River,
they survived. Please, to prevent future tragedies, will you stop using live animals in your events? Your sets and church members provide a perfectly lovely attraction on their own.

Using animals in live Nativities contradicts what the holiday represents: peace on Earth and goodwill to all sentient beings. Often, these animals endure all kinds of weather and are forced to stand or sit on pavement for hours.

They’re also at risk of being grabbed or worse by crowds of strangers. Many terrified animals have tried to flee, including a camel named Ernie, who escaped from a Nativity display in Maryland and was struck by a car and killed. A sheep being used in a manger scene in West Virginia was sexually assaulted when a man broke into the animal’s pen after hours. And in Virginia, three animals died after they were attacked by dogs while being used in a church display.

Christian teachings are all about kindness—yet animals used in live Nativity scenes aren’t treated with compassion. They’re often stressed from transport and from being in a strange
environment, and they’re typically denied everything that’s natural and important to them.

All animals experience joy, fear, sadness, pain, and grief and have complex social and emotional lives—but most animals exploited for these displays are hauled from venue to venue inside cramped trailers in all weather conditions. When they aren’t on the road, they may be chained or confined to small holding pens.

Using animals this way is also a threat to public health: For example, people can be infected by E. coli, salmonella, or ringworm. And many theologians, including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,
maintain that, according to the Bible, not a single animal was at the first Nativity, so preventing animals from appearing in these events would also be more historically accurate. We hope you’llset a meaningful example by never using live animals in your events again. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

With compassion for all,
Candice M. Kelsey
Faith Outreach & Engagement Campaign Coordinator

For more information, please visit or follow PETA on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Banner Image: The rescued calves. Image Credit – Dana Vess

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world, and PETA entities have more than 9 million members and supporters globally. PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment business. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals who are often considered “pests” as well as cruelty to domesticated animals. PETA works through public education, investigative newsgathering and reporting, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.

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