Baby Jesus theft
Baby Jesus theft is the theft of plastic or ceramic figurines of the infant Jesus from outdoor public and private nativity displays during the Christmas season. It is an "enduring (and illegal) practice" according to The New York Times journalist Katie Rogers, "believed to be part of a yearly tradition, often carried out by bored teenagers looking for an easy prank." The prevalence of such thefts has caused the owners of outdoor manger scenes to protect their property with GPS devices, surveillance cameras, or by other means.
Dozens of communities across America have suffered thefts of Baby Jesus figurines, and, in some instances, entire nativity scenes, Washington, D.C. journalist Daniel Nasaw reports for the British newspaper The Guardian. He observes that it is unclear whether such theft is on the rise, as it is not tracked by federal law enforcement.
In 2008, a Baby Jesus was stolen from First United Methodist Church in Kittanning, Pennsylvania and replaced with a pumpkin, and, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a thief not only stole the Baby Jesus from a public display but absconded with the concrete block and chain that was supposed to act as a deterrent. Some communities suffer repeat Baby Jesus thefts. A Baby Jesus was stolen in December 2008 from a Stony Point town display. A town official remarked, "If someone did it as a prank, I don't find it funny." The nativity had been vandalized the year before, and a menorah next to it had been toppled and broken.
During some Christmases of the first decade of the 21st century, the Baby Jesus statue was often stolen from the outdoor nativity scene in Jönköping in Sweden, once thrown into the nearby lake of Vättern. This has led to the nativity scene, resembling a wooden stable, being closed by nights.
Some figurines have been defaced with profanity or Satanic symbols. In December 2008, for example, a fiberglass Baby Jesus valued at US$375 was stolen from a Eureka Springs, Arkansas park and later recovered, but had been defaced by racial slurs, a swastika, and a Hitler mustache. The eyes were also blacked out and pieces had been broken off, rendering it damaged beyond repair.
In his autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, Marilyn Manson admitted playing a prank in which he and a few friends stole figurines of Jesus then replaced them with hams. They sent a communique to a newspaper posing as a black radical group saying that it was a protest against "the plasticisation of the black man's wisdom with the so-called 'White Christmas'."
Some nativity display owners have taken measures to secure their property against would-be thieves. Others are reluctant to exercise such vigilance. One in the state of Indiana man who suffered the loss of his Baby Jesus figurine rebuffed suggestions to secure the figurines on his porch because, "that would be like putting Jesus in jail". Traditional security measures are not always foolproof. The Baby Jesus fastened to the National Christmas Creche at Independence Hall disappeared within days.
Some communities, churches, and citizens are employing electronic technology to protect their property. A Texas family, for example, positioned surveillance cameras in their yard and discovered a teenage girl stealing their Baby Jesus figurine, valued at nearly US$500. In 2008, a security device distributor offered its surveillance cameras and GPS devices to 200 non-profit religious institutions for a month's use gratis. GPS protection has met with some success. In one case, after a life-size ceramic nativity figurine disappeared from the lawn of a community center in Wellington, Florida, sheriff's deputies tracked it to an apartment where it was found lying face-down on a carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested.
While Baby Jesus thefts are largely regarded as pranks, they are set apart by the involvement of a religious icon. "They think it's a prank, but it isn't a prank to some of these people," Pennsylvania state police Corporal Paul Romanic told The Morning Call newspaper, in regards to an incident in which ten nativity scene figures were found in a yard after being stolen from across Bucks County, Pennsylvania. "Plus, it's just wrong to steal the baby Jesus."
Some have wondered if an anti-Christian sentiment lurks behind the thefts. Attorney Mike Johnson of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), a Christian legal group, stated, "I suspect most of it is childish pranks. Clearly, there are adults with an agenda to remove Christ from Christmas. But they tend to occupy themselves with the courts and courtroom of public opinion." Stephen Nissenbaum, the author of The Battle for Christmas and a retired professor, views Baby Jesus theft as neither innocent vandalism nor religious hate crimes. Nissenbaum writes that, "What it means is that it's OK to go around violating even pretty important norms, as long as real human harm isn't being done. It's not exactly devaluing Christianity, but it is sort of a ritualized challenge to it. It could be Christian kids doing it—and on January 2 they become good Christians again."
Historian Daniel Silliman has argued that, whatever the thieves' intention, the act puts the culture of Christmas in a different light. "Baby Jesus thieves literally take the Christ out of Christmas," Silliman writes. "When they do, it becomes apparent that the sacred object is also a piece of property, protected by the law that protects property and this whole apparatus that defends Christmas: fences and lights, tracking devices and private security companies, patrolling police and the courts. The commercialization of Christmas is visible here in a way it might not be, otherwise. That's the power of the joke." 
In "The Big Little Jesus," the December 24, 1953 episode of the television series Dragnet, Sgts. Friday and Smith are called upon to investigate the theft of a Baby Jesus from a church nativity display on Christmas Eve. Unable to solve the crime, the officers tell the priest that Mass must be celebrated without the Baby Jesus. The figurine is restored when a boy arrives with it in a wagon. He tells the officers that he had vowed that if he got a wagon for Christmas, Baby Jesus would have the first ride. This episode was remade when Dragnet went to color; it is not only the only episode made twice, but the only story not based on an actual police case. The episode was originally broadcast on radio on December 22, 1953, making it the only episode to appear on all three Jack Webb versions of the series.
- "Thefts of Baby Jesus Statues Unnerve New Jersey Churches". The New York Times. 2015-12-29. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
- Nasaw 2009.
- "GPS, Hidden Cameras Watch Over Baby Jesus". msnbc.com. Associated Press. 2008-12-12. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
- "Baby Jesus Stolen From New York Town Hall Display". FoxNews.com. Associated Press. 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- Sigrid Nurbo (7 December 2013). "Årets julkrubba är invigd" (in Swedish). Jönköpingsposten. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- "Arkansas Man Arrested for Stealing Baby Jesus". FoxNews.com. Associated Press. 2008-12-24. Retrieved 24 February 2009.
- Stamm, Dan (2008-12-15). "Baby Jesus Stolen from Center City Nativity Scene". nbcphiladelphia.com. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
- Silliman, Daniel. "Trend watch: Thieves taking Christ out of Christmas. Literally". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
- Snauffer 2006, pp. 10.
- Nasaw, Daniel (2009-01-01). "Thefts of Baby Jesus Figurines Sweep US". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
- Snauffer, Douglas (2006). Crime Television. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, (Greenwood Publishing Group). ISBN 0-275-98807-4.
- Bryant, John R.; Cloud, Olivia M. (2006). "Have You Seen Jesus?". Joy to the World: Inspirational Christmas Messages from America's Preachers. New York, NY: Atria Books, (Simon and Schuster). pp. 62–66. ISBN 1-4165-4000-8. Retrieved 20 February 2009.
- Mucha, Peter (December 27, 2008). "Baby Jesus thefts seem to be epidemic". Kansas City Star. p. A9.
- "GPS technology protecting Baby Jesus". Daily Reporter. December 3, 2010.[permanent dead link]
- Dwyer, Devin (2010-12-13). "Nativity Scene Thefts Holiday Tradition, Police Say". ABC News.