The Nativity scene is one of the most enduring symbols of the religious meaning of Christmas. It’s displayed at churches and homes, often with statue figures of Mary and Joseph looking lovingly down at Jesus in a manger.
And every year, people use that popular image for parodies, to drive home political points or to comment on the culture and current events.
Last month, comedian Cameron Esposito, an LGBTQ advocate, posted a photo on Twitter of a Nativity with two Joseph statues in pink robes looking down at baby Jesus. Mary was nowhere to be seen.
“Our neighbors’ two Joseph nativity is up & I’m beaming,” she wrote.
The image drew swift condemnation from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who leads the Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I.
“How sad that someone believes it’s okay (or funny or cool) to impose their own agenda on the holy Birth of Jesus,” Tobin said in a Facebook post. “Pray for those who did so, for their change of heart, and that Jesus will forgive their sacrilege, this attack on the Christian Faith.”
Last week in Mexico City, activists created a parody of a Nativity scene in front of a Christmas tree set up by the Coca-Cola Co. They aimed to send a message about the health impact of eating too much fast food as well as sugary cereals and treats. The Magi included one person dressed as Ronald McDonald and another as Tony the Tiger, the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.
Every year in Italy, artisans in Naples, famous for their ornate crèches, also offer a variety of miniature Nativity scenes spoofing popular culture and politics. This year’s big sellers include Jedi warriors from the latest Star Wars movie as well as statuettes of President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is toting a missile, the Associated Press reported. Both leaders are imprisoned.
Marco Ferrigno told the AP that he placed Trump and Kim in a Nativity as a joke. He hopes their bickering and nuclear threats won’t go any further because they “are starting to become a bit scary in the way they are facing off,” he said.
This year’s Nativity scene outside of St. Susanna Catholic Church in Dedham, Mass., is traditional in all aspects but one. On the back wall of the manger scene are hand-painted signs listing the sites of deadly mass shootings in America, as well as the number of people killed.
The sites of 16 mass shootings listed include Columbine High School (Littleton, Colo.), Newton, Conn.; Orlando; Sutherland Springs, Tex., and Las Vegas. A banner over the scene quotes the Gospel of Luke: “If only you knew the things that make for Peace.”
The Rev. Stephen Josoma, the parish’s pastor, told the Boston Pilot the display is meant to make people “pause and think” about the violence in the culture, which he said “just seems like part of the new normal.”
“We try to bring a little bit of light into darkness in all sorts of ways and raise people’s awareness that what we do today has a consequence for tomorrow,” he told the Pilot, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Boston.
“Hipster Nativity,” which has gotten a lot of traction on social media, features a casually dressed Mary and Joseph, sans biblical clothing, taking selfies with baby Jesus. The Magi are on Segways carrying Amazon boxes. And there’s a solar-powered stable.
“See the birth of Jesus reimagined in the age of iPhones and man buns,” says the display on the Gorrilla Goodies website, which sells the Nativity for $75.95.
Jasen Dixon of Ohio’s Sycamore Township has been putting up a “zombie Nativity” for four years. He swears this year will be his last.
The ghoulish display typically features a zombie Mary, Joseph and Magi. Even baby Jesus is a zombie.
“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t going to do it this year,” Dixon told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “But I get hundreds of emails from people, local fans. It’s almost like a cult following. They actually contact me and ask if it is up.”
The Enquirer reported that the display has also been met with scorn and led to battles over free speech and zoning issues between the city and Dixon in 2015 and 2016. Last year, the city dropped 27 misdemeanor charges against Dixon, and it didn’t make him pay $13,500 in fines issued by the township related to the Nativity.
Earlier this month, people dressed as Mary, Joseph and the other characters in the Nativity story, marched around the Supreme Court in Washington to raise a point about what they see as an erosion and even hostility toward the religious meaning of Christmas.
The annual event was sponsored by Faith & Action, a Christian-advocacy group.
“We staged a live performance to celebrate the CHRIST-mas season with actors in costume playing Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, along with live animals — a donkey, two sheep, and two camels,” according to a statement posted on the group’s website. “Your support for our programs such as the Live Nativity helps us to continue to spread the GOSPEL throughout Capitol Hill.”
Some cows aren’t cut out for city life.
Such appeared to be the case of a Hereford who twice ran away from a live Nativity at a Philadelphia church. The cow was dubbed “Stormy” because at one point it was found wandering down Interstate 95 in the cold and snow.
“Police boxed her in with cruisers,” USA today reported. “One of the officers then roped her in with a lasso and walked her off the highway.”
After being returned to the Nativity, Stormy escaped a second time.
“A cow is loose. Again,” the Philadelphia Police Twitter feed said. “No, we can believe we’re tweeting this either.”
Stormy was captured in a parking garage and promptly retired. A smaller “understudy,” Ginger the cow, took over Stormy’s role in the live Nativity.
For a few fleeting days, Stormy was an instant Internet sensation. Someone even launched a “Stormy The Escaped Nativity Cow” Twitter account.
“I did escape. Twice,” one post read. “But I did so to draw attention to the plight of refugees and immigrants. Jesus was a refugee. Welcome the refugee and stranger. Even a cow knows that’s the right thing.”
And then there are the Christmas pageant Nativity scenes. A couple of toddlers recently soared to Internet fame for fighting over baby Jesus during their pageant at First Baptist Church of White Pine in Tennessee.
Two-year-old Teegan Benson, who was supposed to be playing a sheep, really just wanted to hold baby Jesus. So she grabbed him out of the manager.
But the 3-year-old playing Mary wasn’t having it. She recovered the doll and put him back. Then Teegan struck again. The result: a Nativity tug-of-war, toddler-style.
Tana Benson, Teegan’s mother, told the “Today” show that the audience roared as the scene unfolded.
“I’m really glad that a video like this can bring some light into the season,” she told the “Today” show. “This is a good way to share the message and remind everyone of the reason for the season, which is Jesus.”
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