This December, don’t be alarmed if you see someone taking a donkey for a walk in Old City. “You have to stretch its legs,” says Roxana Drusemire of Mayfair, a volunteer at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ. For the last 43 years, the church has welcomed a school of animals to be displayed at their crèche or nativity scene, outside their office at the corner of 4th and Race Streets during the holiday season.
Not to be outdone by the commercialism of the holidays, the pastor all those years ago, Reverend H. Daehler Hayes, came up with the idea of including real animals so people can remember the true meaning of Christmas.
As you can imagine, this tradition certainly took off because who doesn’t love looking at cute animals? Every year, their list tries to include: two sheep, two goats, one donkey and one cow. To ensure they all feel welcome requires an army of volunteers. Many come from the congregation as well as the local community. Duties include building the crèche, replacing the straw, feeding the animals and walking the donkey.
Roxana who first discovered the church when she lived in Old City felt sorry for the donkey being in such a confined space. Like a dog it needs to be walked.
Keeping the donkey happy is pivotal to the celebration since on Christmas Eve, the church stages a posada, a Latin American tradition which recreates the journey of Mary, Joseph and the donkey searching for a place to stay through the town of Bethlehem.
Due to the rising costs of renting these animals, the church has had to scale back their normal tradition of three weeks to just ten days. But don’t fret they — have a GOFundMe account if you’d like to contribute.
Teresa Warnick, office administrator for OldFirstUCC, says the response for the creche has always been very favorable.
“Last year, for the first time we did a contest to see where people came from to see the crèche for the first time and nearly 100 people gave us their names and contact information. We have several hundred visitors while the animals are here.”
She continues, “When I was hired in 2015, my next door neighbor in Wyncote told me all about the crèche, they went down every year, brought their children and now their grandchildren.”
If you go:
Crèche at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ
December 17 - 27
151 North 4th Street (400 Race Street) Philadelphia, PA 19106
Free | 215-922-4566