Camels don’t often find their way to Johnston County. But two of the desert animals were on display here last week.
Hephzibah Baptist Church near Princeton stages a live nativity each year. Families can drive by four stations to watch costumed actors play out moments from the Christmas story.
The bleating and baaing of goats and sheep catch peoples’ attention, but nothing is quite like the groan-whine of a camel. The two camels, Abraham, age 2, and Noah, 18 months, stood near the Three Wise Men during the live nativity, which ran Dec. 12-14.
“Especially around these parts, most people know the story, the birth of Jesus, and so to see it is familiar,” said the Rev. TJ Tamer, associate pastor. “But it’s a real treat for the kids to see the little goats and the donkeys and the camels.”
With 30 to 40 volunteers, Hephzibah Baptist Church hosts the live nativity to share the birth of Jesus with the community, Taber said. Around 100 cars come each year.
“The live nativity is a way to add a little bit of flavor I guess to the story,” Taber said. “The story hasn’t changed – we tell the story straight out of the Bible – but the live animals help to give it something they can’t see if they just read it on the pages of scripture.”
So where do the camels come from? Not from a desert across an ocean. The furry animals came from Newton, about a three-hour drive west of Princeton.
Brent Cook of Circle C Farms said the family business owns six camels and brought two for the live nativity. His family bought their first camel in the 1990s, and the herd grew from there, he said.
“You start out with a hobby, people wanting us to bring out animals to birthday parties, and we wanted something different to add to our petting zoo, so we decided to buy a camel,” Cook said.
Circle C Farms buys its camels from the United States’ handful of camel breeders and exotic-animal auctions, Cook said. “There’s not many people that raise camels in North Carolina, but there are people out of state,” Cook said. “We have friends that have drive-through zoos, and some of them, that’s all they do, is just raise camels.”
The non-desert climate doesn’t bother the camels, he said. The desert is so hot in the day and cold at night that the extremes match North Carolina’s seasonal highs and lows.
While some camels are known for spitting, biting and a general bad temperament, Cook’s camels are more like giant pets, he said. “We bottle raise them,” he said. “The ones we use, they’re very friendly because they’ve been handled ever since they was a baby.”
Cook said he takes his camels around the state to live nativities, parades and festivals. People are usually shocked to see a camel, though the recent Geico commercial has led to people shouting, “Hump day!”
Angie Proctor came to the live nativity with her husband, two children and one of their friends. “It’s a good event to bring your family,” she said. “It’s good, clean, Christian fun.”
Proctor and her husband were excited for their kids to see the camels. “You never see camels in North Carolina,” she said.