Philly Archdiocese offers gifts for kids around the city at 67th annual live nativity

Animals and community members participate in the 67th annual Archbishop’s Christmas Party in Center City (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Animals and community members participate in the 67th annual Archbishop’s Christmas Party in Center City (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

A turkey, ducks, a young calf, and a camel were among the sights that made up this year’s 67th annual Archbishop’s Christmas Party in Philadelphia.

More than 500 students watched as other young people portrayed the three wise men, plus Mary and Joseph alongside the barnyard animals reenacting scenes from the first Christmas.

Father Christopher Walsh of St. Cecilia’s Parish organized the assemblage of school students and livestock.

“It’s exciting and it’s a lot of fun, but it does give you a sort of an awareness of the original Christmas which wasn’t a pretty scene. Animals are animals,” Walsh said. “The Christmas card, it might look really cute, but animals make a mess and they smell, but that was the world that Jesus was born into.”

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In addition to the live animals outside, inside the archdiocese headquarters, high school students perform in a play retelling the Christmas story. Amy Stoner is one of the organizers of the 67th annual event, which brings in youth from across the city.

“The high school students and other volunteers purchase a gift that the child chooses and they leave here with a Christmas gift, a big party and a play that celebrates the birth of Christ,” Stoner said.

The annual party dates back to the 1950s, when it was started under Cardinal John O’Hara. It’s a mostly volunteer effort, with the students being brought to the downtown Sheraton and being entertained.

“This is probably one of the happiest days of the year for us to do this,” Stoner said.

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