Just like many of his neighbors in Sycamore, Ohio, Jasen Dixon looks forward to the day each year when he can set up a Nativity scene in his front yard. Like a few of the other crèches that dot the village’s quiet streets and groomed lawns, his is fairly elaborate: a wooden manger with a roof and a bed of hay, colorful lights, music streaming from a speaker positioned nearby. It has all the critical components, from the three robed wise men to the reverential Mary and Joseph gazing down at a tiny infant Christ.
There’s only one major difference in Dixon’s Nativity: All the characters are undead.
Mary, Joseph and the wise men are eerie and skeletal, with rotting teeth and fierce expressions. “Jesus” has the coloring of “Gollum” from the Lord of the Rings and looks about just as friendly. His eyes are yellow and pupil-less and blood streams down his stomach from his razor-like teeth.
The zombie scene was built last year as a marketing ploy for Dixon’s nearby haunted house business “13 Rooms of Doom” using materials Dixon had on hand — life-size skeletons, fake blood, severed heads.
“So it’s kind of artsy,” Dixon told WCPO.
He revived the Nativity this winter because it was “such a hit,” according to Ohio TV station WKRC.
But only with some people.
For the second year in a row, Dixon has drawn the ire of religious groups and town zoning officials for the unusual structure.
Religious objections to the Nativity are obvious: “The blasphemy!” lamented Indiana pastor and apocalypse-themed radio show host Paul Begley in a YouTube video posted last year.
On Sunday, Dixon posted a Facebook photo of a pamphlet he said had been dropped at the feet of the undead baby Jesus by two Baptists.
“GOD FROWNS UPON THIS MANGER SCENE,” the pamphlet read.
It continued, “Jesus has supreme power over death and evil; he is not a zombie,” — an apparent response to Dixon’s supporters’ arguments that Christ did, after all, rise from the dead.
“The God of the Bible is not only a God of love, but also a God of wrath,” it said. “God never expresses even the slightest inkling of humor towards demons or, in this case, zombies.”
But the Dixons call their Nativity “artwork,” not religious commentary. And, they add in the “about” section of their Facebook page, “We are not atheist.”
Sycamore township officials, meanwhile, say their problem isn’t with the pointy-toothed, bloody baby Jesus or the ghoulish Joseph. It’s not even the spooky rendition of “Silent Night” that plays constantly or the colored lights that bathe the diorama in an eerie glow.
It’s zoning regulations.
The Dixons had a similar problem last holiday season, when Sycamore officials said they couldn’t keep the structure up without a permit. This year, they emailed administrators and filled out the paperwork for a permit, a process they documented step by step on their Facebook page.
But they were denied, Dixon told WKRC, because the zoning code doesn’t allow for “accessory structures” in a front yard. Or so they said.
“I think it’s the theme. It just rubs people the wrong way and it puts the spotlight on me. That’s why they’re coming down so hard on me,” Dixon said.
Dixon and his family began to dismantle the scene on Friday, but wound up leaving it up minus the roof to “see what happens.”
He told WKRC he was fined $500 as of Friday, and could continued to be fined that amount each day that he leaves the structure up.
The Dixons set up a crowd funding page to raise money for charity and for next year’s diorama. But after receiving the fine, Dixon said that he’s also looking for help covering the fines he’s now facing.
As of Monday night, the site has garnered roughly $900.
The Dixons aren’t the only people who are ditching gingerbread for brains. An Arizona-based toy company recently announced that it would begin selling a zombie Nativity kit complete with an undead angel and donkey for the 2016 Christmas season.
Justin Contre, one of the developers of the kit, told the Religion News Service that his Zombie Nativity product has brought him closer to his parents and the Catholic faith in which they raised him.
“We talked about what they believe, what I believe and how we think Jesus should be represented,” he said. “They are happy I have a Nativity in my house now, even though it is zombies.”