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10 Shocking Crimes That Have Occurred Involving Nativity Scenes

by Blake Lynch
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen
Featured image credit: pikisuperstar/Freepik

As we approach the holiday season, many people find themselves engaging in yearly practices to celebrate Christmas. One of the most common Christmas traditions frequently ranked up there with nutcrackers and decorating Christmas trees are Nativity scenes. After all, Nativity scenes help people to continue telling the age-old story of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus and the manger where Jesus was born.

While many Nativity scenes proceed without much friction, it’s an unfortunate truth that over the years, countless shocking crimes have occurred at Nativity scenes throughout the world. This listicle explores 10 of the most shocking “crimes” that have happened at Nativity scenes.

Related: Top 10 Intriguing Cases Involving Art About Jesus

10 The Nativity That Was Set on Fire

Vandalia Police investigating nativity scene, van fires at church

At the beginning of 2022, a man in Vandalia, Ohio, was placed on a $50,000 bond after being accused of setting fire to a Nativity scene at a nearby church. As a result of his offense, the man ultimately faced charges related to the desecration of a place of worship, arson, and vandalism.

The fire involved not just the Nativity scene but also an adjacent structure and a passenger van that was located in a nearby parking lot. The fire was ignited by several straw bales that were lit on fire. The man was later arrested on a warrant after charges were filed against him.

Unfortunately, the church where the fire occurred was later looted, leading to approximately $10,000 in damages to various items, including a computer and television. This offense is reported to have involved green spray paint.[1]

9 The Drunk Driver Who Hid in a Nativity Scene

Photo credit: The Telegraph

In 2015, a drunk driver in England found Jesus at the most peculiar time. The young Englishman crashed his Mini Cooper into a metal obstruction in North Yorkshire early on a Saturday morning. The man then abandoned his car and ran approximately 650 feet (200 meters) to a large shed that housed a Nativity scene. There he tried to hide from law enforcement. To hide himself from law enforcement, the man shielded himself using the baby Jesus. The driver believed he successfully eluded law enforcement but was later apprehended by law enforcement and underwent a breath test. The driver was then arrested for failing this breath test.[2]


8 Nativity Cow Arrested Multiple Times

Police Capture Cow After It Escapes From Nativity Scene Twice

In December 2017, several people noticed a cow headed down a Philadelphia highway. The cow managed to successfully escape from a Nativity scene at about 2 am. Fortunately, a Pennsylvania state trooper owned a horse/cattle ranch and was equipped to deal with the situation. The cow was eventually boxed in by cruisers and lassoed by a law enforcement officer. Officers then walked the cow off the highway and placed her into a horse trailer before she was returned to the live Nativity scene in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia, where she was playing a role.

But Stormy the cow left the Nativity scene again around 6:30 am and made her way into a nearby garage that was attached to the Wyndham Hotel. During the second escape, Stormy was ultimately coerced out of the parking structure and back onto the snow-covered street with hay. While Nativity workers noticed tampering at Stormy’s enclosure the first time, how she escaped the second time remains a mystery.

The cow is a show cow based in the “City of Udderly Love” and is used to being close to people. More specifically, the cow came from Manatawna Farm in Philadelphia’s Roxborough neighborhood. The cow routinely interacts with 4-H clubs. To avoid a potential third escape, Stormy was replaced with a smaller and easier-to-handle cow that could not escape the enclosure.[3]

7 Baby Jesus Returned After 90 Years

Baby Jesus Statue Returned – Nearly 90 Years Later

Throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world, countless stories exist about baby Jesuses that have been stolen from Nativity scenes. While the act of stealing a baby Jesus from a manager is not a rare occurrence, it’s extremely rare that a baby Jesus is returned, especially after 90 years. But it is exactly what happened at Hoboken’s Our Lady of Grace Church, though.

In 2018, a statue of a baby Jesus was returned to a church 90 years after the statue was stolen. Staff at the church discovered the package around Christmas and found that it had no return address. As a result, the statue was brought to the attention of the church’s reverend, who initially had reservations because he lacked a name or an address. Fortunately, the post office later tracked the origins of the package down to Crystal Springs, Florida.

Hoboken Police and emergency workers later scanned the package with a heat-seeking device. After determining that nothing explosive was inside, the box was opened carefully, and a baby Jesus statue was found inside with a note. The note explained that the statute had become something of a family heirloom after being stolen from a Nativity display in the 1930s. The statue then, instead of being returned, was passed down through the family. The current owner felt that the statue should be returned to the church.[4]


6 Zombie-Nativity Leads to Arrest

Zombie nativity scene is too scary for one town

In Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2016, a dispute about a zombie-themed Nativity display led to a protest and later an arrest. The dispute resulted in nine zoning violations being brought against the owner of the Nativity setup by Sycamore Township. The citations focused on the man’s roof, a structure in his front yard, his side yard, and debris in his yard. He pleaded not guilty to these charges. Even though the citations did not mention the size or structure of the Nativity display, the display owner thinks he was singled out.

While the owner of the display was in court, another person was dressed as a zombie and staged a demonstration outside the courthouse. This zombie protester was ultimately arrested for contempt of court but continued growling even when approached by law enforcement. The zombie was ultimately ordered to spend three months in jail.[5]

5 Nativity Jesus’ Head and Feet Removed

Amity Rolfs Nativity vandalized – baby destroyed

In 2015, police in West Bend, Indiana, conducted an investigation after a baby Jesus’ head and arms were removed from a Nativity scene while his torso remained. While law enforcement later found the arm close to the Nativity, the head remains missing. At the time the statue was stolen, baby Jesus was wired down to the Nativity set.

The Nativity was received as a gift by the city in the 1960s. To make matters even stranger, this isn’t the first time parts of the baby Jesus statue have been stolen. The handmade German Nativity set was relatively old at the time this offense was committed and has been broken, repaired, and painted several different colors over the years. The previous crimes occurred when the baby Jesus statue was stolen from the Nativity set in the 1970s or 1980s, and a donkey was stolen in 2013.

The city was later concerned that they would have to replace the baby Jesus statue but worried that a newer statue would be noticeable given the age of the rest of the set.[6]


4 Topless Vatican Protestor Tries to Steal Baby Jesus Statue

Woman Tries to Steal Jesus from Vatican Nativity

A topless protester was arrested in 2017 after running into the Nativity scene at the Vatican to steal the statue of the baby Jesus. The incident happened while thousands were gathered around St. Peter’s Square to hear a Christmas Day message from the pope. The woman in question was wearing her pants as well as her shoes at the time of the offense. It was later determined that the woman was a member of Femen, an international feminist group that is known for sending topless protestors to various famous locations throughout the world.

The woman argued that the act was designed to protest how the Vatican had infringed on the rights that women have over their bodies. The infringements in question involved the promotion of abortion bans and the condemnation of contraceptives.

The theft was stopped before the woman could escape the scene. The Catholic Church has long been targeted for its conservative policies and traditional views. Previous attempts by Femen to steal the baby Jesus statue in 2014 were also unsuccessful.[7]

3 Pig’s Head Left in Nativity Scene

Police: Baby Jesus Taken, Replaced with Pig’s Head

In 2015, Massachusetts law enforcement reported that a person stole a baby Jesus statue from a Nativity scene on Christmas morning and swapped the figure with a pig’s head. The Nativity was set up in a raised wooden box situated outside a church. The pig’s head was later removed, leaving behind a plastic bag in the position where baby Jesus would be.

The Haverhill Police later held a conference to discuss the disturbing act. Making matters even stranger, the pig’s head was not the kind that would be sold at a butcher shop. Instead, the pig’s head appeared freshly decapitated. Local farmers and butchers were asked to help in locating the origin of the animal’s head.

Even stranger, seven years previously, several additional pig heads were found at another nearby Haverhill church. To this day, who committed the crime remains a mystery. In an act of Christmas spirit, one nearby family brought another Jesus statue for the Nativity scene.[8]


2 Dismembered Nativity Mannequin Bodies Draw Suspicion

Church Volunteer Uses Mannequins To Create Bizarre Nativity Scene

In 2018, a churchgoer in Nottingham, England, was placed in the difficult situation of having to answer questions when an officer arrived at her doorstep and asked questions about the limbs he had seen inside the woman’s home. The churchgoer had spent several months carefully putting together a display for her nearby church after acquiring several life-sized mannequins. While the officer was at first shocked to discover they were mannequins, the officer was later relieved to find this out. The churchgoer responded by opening her washroom to reveal other mannequins. The female officer claimed that no one at the station would ever believe her.

This is not the only time a guest at the woman’s home became suspicious of the mannequins. Previously, a window washer refused to enter the woman’s garden because the washer thought the mannequins were really two naked men. Let’s consider this one more of a misunderstanding than a real crime, though some people didn’t know that at first.[9]

1 Satanic Nativity Leads to Arrest

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times

An angel taken from a statue from the Satanic Temple that was placed at the Florida Capitol led to an arrest in 2014. A woman ultimately damaged the display after an atheist group erected the statue to counter a nearby Nativity scene constructed by a Christian group. The display of the angel had a message reading, “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple.”

When the woman tried to remove the statue, she was told by the police that she could not do so. The woman was later arrested and charged with criminal mischief. The display had been built as an act of satire by an atheist group in reaction to the nearby Nativity scene, which was removed when the Satanic Temple built theirs.

The previous year, atheist groups had started making the most of a free speech zone at the Florida Capitol. The displays previously erected include a Festivus pole in honor of the holiday mentioned on Seinfeld that satirizes Christmas and a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster display. The previous year, the Satanic Temple’s display was rejected as offensive, but in 2014, the group’s display was approved.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

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