With COVID-19 causing popular Christmas events to be canceled, churches throughout the U.S. are trying something many of them have never done before: holding a drive-through nativity.
“This is the church’s Christmas gift to the town,” said Rev. Daniel England, the interim pastor of Bridgewater Congregational Church (BCC) in Bridgewater, Connecticut. “That’s really why we’re doing it.” Because Bridgewater’s annual tree lighting ceremony will not be taking place, the drive-through nativity provides an alternate way for residents to celebrate the season.
Like many drive-through nativities, BCC’s will feature actors depicting different scenes from the Christmas story. Here is a look at one church’s drive-through nativity from 2017.
BCC’s drive-through nativity is planned for Dec. 19. After participants arrive at the church, they will drive through a series of seven “vignettes,” or scenes from the story of Jesus’ birth. As visitors make their way through the experience, volunteers will hand out gifts, including battery-operated candles. Children will receive a sticker book, a storybook, and a treat.
Larry Neary, one of the organizers of the drive-through nativity, said that attendees will not leave their cars and those involved will wear masks and practice social distancing. Several local businesses have gotten involved in the event by donating hay bales and signage, as well as by providing animals. Said Neary, “If this works this year, we may do it every year.”
Churches Get Creative with Drive-Through Nativity Ideas
While drive-through nativities have many elements in common, different churches are offering their own twists on the events. For example, some are providing audio for people to listen to that corresponds to each station. The Rock church in Castle Rock, Colorado, is holding a drive-through nativity from Dec. 14 through Dec. 23 that will have nine stations showing different scenes from the nativity story. People can either download tracks or stream the audio for each station while they are driving. The church is encouraging attendees to bring snacks like popcorn and hot chocolate to enjoy during the experience.
Suntree United Methodist Church in Suntree, Florida, is another church offering audio narration via CD or QR code. The church’s drive-through nativity, which will be held on Dec. 11 and 12, will feature live animals and take about 15 minutes. Suntree Church’s Director of Communications, Tanner Smith, observed that the Christmas story has a special relevance for this year’s challenges: “Just like the Holy Family who sought shelter in Bethlehem, many of us are experiencing conflicting emotions — worried about the present, but excited for the future.”
Beginning today and running through most of December, Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata, Minnesota, is offering a take on the drive-through nativity idea that the church is calling “The Christmas Story in Lights.” The event will feature eight stations that tell the story of Jesus’ birth with music, lights, and narration. Another idea the church had was to ask people to bring an ornament and to hang it on a community tree outside the church. The church will also be collecting an offering for a nonprofit that provides emergency services to people in need. Christa Bowman Workmon, who leads the church’s middle school ministry, said, “We definitely take our middle name seriously at Wayzata Community Church, so we’re constantly thinking about what we can do for the community.”
Members of Green Valley Baptist Church in Green Valley, Arizona, began planning for their drive-through nativity all the way back in March. Instead of actors, Green Valley’s nativity will feature almost life-size figures that the church members have constructed themselves. The church plans to hold the event from Dec. 1 through Christmas Day, although that time frame could be extended. Participants will have the opportunity to donate to local food banks. Back in September, spokeswoman Sandy Lovell said, “We can’t wait to put out the display and invite our community to drive by and appreciate the joy and hope that the birth of Jesus Christ has given us.”
The awareness that people need hope during this challenging time in our country is what has motivated many churches to hold their drive-through nativities. Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington, is scaling back its annual drive-through nativity this year. But the church’s Molly Dunn said it is important, particularly for the church’s older members, to still have the event safely. “We have an older congregation, and many haven’t seen each other since March,” she said. “Online is just not the same thing. So if they get the opportunity to see someone, even if it’s wearing an angel costume, that’s a nice thing.”