Drive-thru Nativity: One community’s way of celebrating Christmas during the pandemic

Celebrating the Christmas season by sharing the holiday spirit with loved ones while also keeping people safe and socially distanced can be difficult.

While many families, congregations, and communities have made do with gathering virtually for small Christmas devotionals or Zoom family parties, members of the McLean Virginia Stake just outside of Washington D.C. got a little more creative.

On Dec. 11 and 12, the stake hosted a drive-thru food drive to benefit SHARE of McLean, a local food bank operated by McLean Baptist. The food drive was accompanied by a live Nativity display.  

The Clifton family, members of the McLean Virginia Stake participate in the drive-thru Nativity and food drive hosted on Dec. 11 an 12, 2020.
The Clifton family, members of the McLean Virginia Stake participate in the drive-thru Nativity and food drive hosted on Dec. 11 an 12, 2020. Credit: Virginia Payne, Virginia Payne Photography

“We sensed that many people in our community were looking for a hopeful end to the year,” said Kelcey Moriarty, one of the event’s coordinators. “So we wanted to find a way to celebrate the holidays together in a festive and fun way, while maintaining a safe environment.”

The drive-thru nativity “fit the bill” Moriarty said, as it offered a bit of Christmas fun for people of all ages while also helping provide food for those in need.

With social distancing and COVID-19 precautions as a top priority of the event, all guests remained in their cars as they drove along viewing the various Nativity displays from a safe distance. Displays included a manger scene with Bethlehem scenery and shepherds, angels and wise men scattered throughout various areas of the parking lot as well as over 20,000 Christmas lights. There were also live llamas, sheep, goats, donkeys, miniature horses, chickens and rabbits. 

As guests drove through the lot to see the various displays, a podcast provided narration of the Christmas story along with music for those attending.

With over 1,000 cars driving through during the two-night event, organizers said the Nativity and food drive proved very popular and benefitted from unseasonably warm winter weather with temperatures in the 50s both evenings.  

Benjamin and Sophia Higbee, members of the McLean Virginia Stake help gather food for the drive-thru Nativity and food drive hosted by the McLean stake on Dec. 11 an 12, 2020.
Benjamin and Sophia Higbee, members of the McLean Virginia Stake help gather food for the drive-thru Nativity and food drive hosted by the McLean stake on Dec. 11 an 12, 2020. Credit: Robyn Higbee

President Jim Stansel, president of the McLean stake, said, “The message of Christmas, and of the other holidays celebrated by numerous faith groups at this time of year, is a joyous and hopeful one. We wanted to make this a neighborhood event and were gratified that thousands of our neighbors from the local community were able to join us to celebrate over the weekend.  We were particularly happy to see so many children enjoy the nativity displays and the animals.”