News & Politics

Live Nativity Scenes Are Making Their Return to Washington This Holiday Season

If you’ve been dreaming about petting a Yuletide camel, now’s your chance.

The Washington National Cathedral's 2019 nativity scene. Photo courtesy Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Perhaps another sign that the holiday season is looking a bit more normal in 2021 (with a wary eye on Omicron, of course): Live nativity scenes are making their return this year. And over at the Washington National Cathedral, Aladdin the camel is back. 

The Cathedral nativity scene is returning to in-person capacity—in 2019, they had to perform the nativity twice to meet demand, and last year’s filmed nativity scene has garnered over 15,000 views. So far, about 1,100 of 1,900 available seats for this year’s event have been reserved, according to the cathedral’s provost Jan Naylor Cope. 

For Cope, the nativity’s return “means everything.” As she puts it: “It’s somewhat ordered in joyful chaos.” This year, she’ll be reprising her role of a shepherdess. “​​I literally herd those animals up the center aisle of the cathedral and up on a platform,” Cope says. “If you’ve never tried to coax a sheep and a goat up on a platform, it is not as easy as it might look or sound.” 

Cope also explains that attendees must prepare themselves in the event of an animal taking a “bio break” mid-performance. “I seem to always have the animals who do,” she says. 

There will also be time for guests to visit with the animals in a penned area. The service will be live-streamed for people unable to attend. “But there’s nothing quite like watching those little children just scream with joy and laugh, loving every bit of it,” Cope says. 

The Cathedral’s nativity scene can be seen during their Christmas family service (masks are required) on Thursday, December 23 at 11 a.m. Other nativity scenes can be found throughout the District, including at the Catholic University of America on Sunday, December 12; at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church also on Sunday, December 12; and at the Leesburg Animal Park’s Christmas Village throughout the month. 


Jason Fontelieu
Editorial Fellow