Bingo the miniature donkey is booked up this weekend. So are various sheep, camels and other creatures as the season for live Nativity scenes - re-creations of the birth of Jesus - arrives. Renting animals can be an expensive proposition, but organizers say the animals are real crowd-pleasers.
Bingo the miniature donkey is booked up this weekend.
So are various sheep, camels and other creatures as the season for live Nativity scenes — re-creations of the birth of Jesus — arrives. Renting animals can be an expensive proposition, but organizers say the animals are real crowd-pleasers.
Churches and other organizations seem to have three basic requirements for Nativity animals: They must be affordable, docile and hoofed. (Even alpacas, a hoofed South American animal that would have been nowhere near Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, make it into live Nativity scenes.)
Kim Huffman of C3 Church, organizer of a Nativity scene planned for Olde Pickerington Village, learned about Bingo from a friend of her brother’s. But she was told that he is an experienced Nativity donkey who might be in demand.
“We had to check its schedule,” Huffman said.
The arrangements worked out: Bingo will perform on Friday at Olde Pickerington Village and Saturday at New Zion United Methodist in Baltimore, Ohio.
He has the perfect temperament for the job, said his owner, Rick May of Baltimore.
“He just stands there like a dog,” he said.
May is donating the donkey’s services.
Huffman was also fortunate to score some similarly placid sheep from a family that raises them for 4-H competitions.
Market sheep — the type raised to be sold — are too skittish for Nativity scenes, Huffman said. Breeding sheep, which are halter-trained and accustomed to people, are the much better choice.
“These are the things I found out in trying to plan this,” she said.
Sheep, donkeys, horses, goats, miniature cattle, alpacas and llamas are acceptable Nativity animals. For effect, though, no other creature beats a camel.
Every year, Grace Polaris Church, 8225 Worthington-Galena Rd., puts on “Living Christmas Trees,” a holiday spectacular with actors, musicians and vocalists tiered on risers in the shape of a Christmas tree.
A highlight of the show — which blends a contemporary plot with the Nativity story — is the entrance of the camels.
“The ticket office will tell you that so many people call and ask, ‘Is this the show with the camels?’??” said Bill Palmateer, a church spokesman.
The camels are supplied by Swine Time Pig Racing, a Wisconsin company that has worked with the show for 10 years.
Grace could undoubtedly find camels in Ohio, said Matt Schoebel, whose family owns Swine Time.
“Now, finding one that performs for a theatrical event may be a little harder to come by,” he said.
The camels in the show are used to the large crowds, bright lights and music. They casually duck through low doorways (padded so they don’t bruise their humps) and are led down the aisles while spectators gawk.
Getting them to perform is largely a matter of handing out carrots as a reward for hitting their marks onstage, Schoebel said.
Each camel has a handler who dresses in costume, and an all-important cleanup person trails the caravan.
“Somebody’s got to have a broom handy at all times,” Schoebel said.
Bringing the camels plus a donkey and a horse to Columbus, boarding them at a farm between shows (the church does 12 of them over three weekends) and paying the expenses of their handlers costs thousands, Palmateer said. (Schoebel wouldn’t say how much he charges.)
Even an Ohio camel would probably cost a church $800 to $1,200, said Irish Caudy of Cool Cat Sites Entertainment, a Columbus company that supplies animals for Nativity scenes and other events.
“Once you figure out the price and all, people usually can’t afford it,” Caudy said.
As for more common animals, suppliers say it can cost several hundred dollars to rent a few for a night.
Patrick Barthen of Buckeye Donkey Ball in Orient (its main business is staging charity games in which people shoot baskets while seated on donkeys) said the cost of live Nativity scenes has gone up because liability concerns make it necessary to hire handlers.
Which explains why he receives fewer requests from churches than he once did.
Organizations seeking to economize, he said, need to consider the big difference between an experienced show donkey and one plucked off a farm.
“I’ve had many a folk balk at the money, and then the next year they’re like ‘We want your donkey. The last one dragged the pastor around.’??”
Of course, sometimes even compliant animals have an off night.
Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has presented live Nativity scenes with animals since 1971, usually conducts them outside on its grounds at 3660 Kenny Rd. in Upper Arlington.
A few years ago, heavy rain forced the church to change the venue to the sanctuary at the last minute, organizer Jennifer Parker said.
Church members rushed to lay tarps on the floor, and everything was soon in order. The goats and sheep were led inside without incident. But two of the larger animals, an alpaca and a donkey, were having none of it. Accustomed to barns, they weren’t used to being led through small doors.
“They refused to go in the building,” Parker said.
The show went on without them.
The glitch hasn’t discouraged the church, which says it has the longest-running live Nativity scene in the area.
This year, it spent more than $400 to rent a donkey, an alpaca, two goats and two sheep from Cool Cat Sites Entertainment. The live Nativity took place on Sunday.
People love the live Nativity tradition, Parker said.
And the animals love when it’s over: “At the end of the evening, when the handlers bring the trailer back around, the animals know they’re going home, and they’re so excited.”