6th December 2022

The festive period is intended to be a time of kindness, compassion and goodwill. Unfortunately, these qualities are not always extended towards non-human animals who are exploited for entertainment purposes, such as in nativity scenes using live animals. These sadly take place in churches and community centres across the country and beyond every year.

Though the nativity is a religious tradition within the Christian faith, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has said that there is no evidence for the presence of animals at Jesus’s birth written anywhere in the gospels. Pope Benedict echoed this view, and mentioned that references to the ox and the donkey in other parts of the Bible may have inspired Christians to include them in their nativity scenes. Despite these religious figures stating that animals were not necessarily present for Jesus’s birth, they continue to be commodified as props in nativity scenes.  

Live animals exploited in these kinds of displays include donkeys, camels, sheep, goats, cows and even guinea pigs. They are often chained and forced to stand for hours surrounded by crowds, or beside loud live music acts, in churches, city centres or other events spaces.  

Live nativities are extremely harmful to these often shy and solitary animals who in some cases, such as with camels, may also not be well-adapted to life in the UK. Transportation to events can also be traumatic and may take hours. This can not only affect the animals’ physical health but also harm them emotionally, causing them to behave in unpredictable and sometimes dangerous ways. In 2017, two donkeys bit a toddler after becoming stressed whilst being forced to participate in a nativity scene. This was after the priest promised that the animals were friendly and “would not bite”. In 2021, a camel fled from a Christmas nativity scene and then ran around Bonner Springs, a city in Kansas. It is evident that these nativity events cause a great deal of stress, and that the animals react in desperate ways to escape them and defend themselves.

The abusive nature of this exploitation for entertainment purposes is demonstrated by how shamelessly the animals are treated as commodities. An article posted in the Express and Star references the nativity trail at an arboretum in Kidderminster, quoting one of the arboretum owners as saying "We always try and have a baby donkey during or just after the nativity trail as it's a big attraction.” This is extremely problematic, as animals are being brought into existence purely to be used as marketing props.

We are not alone in our assessment that animals should not be exploited for nativities; other animal rights organisations have also spoken out against them. The entire animal protection community would like to see organisations continue to celebrate Christmas with fun and family-friendly events, but for those events to be animal-free. The vast majority of UK events are successful and enjoyable without exploiting animals, but a minority continue to treat animals as props. You can use our events map to find local events to attend that are animal-free, as well as those where live animals are being exploited so you can contact the organisers and ask them to change their plans. If you know of an event that is using live animals, let Freedom for Animals know so we can contact the organisers and add it to our events map.

Help us to continue to fight for liberation, not only of animals being used for nativities, but in all manner of events during the festive period, and beyond. Stand with us to bring an end to animal exploitation.

- 6th December 2022