Animals Thrill Children of All Ages at ‘Christmas at the Library’

By   •   December 5, 2023

Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas at the Billy Graham Library, now through Dec. 23. Admission to Christmas at the Library is free, but reservations are required and spots are filling up fast. Reserve your place now. A petting zoo (shown here) is also available Thursday–Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

With nearly 600 animals at her farm in Georgia, Jodi Gray can only choose a dozen or so for a very important assignment at Christmas at the Library.

What You Need to Know

  • The Billy Graham Library
    opens at 9:30 a.m. and is
    closed on Sundays.
    Admission and parking
    are free.
  • Christmas activities are
    Monday through Thursday,
    5 p.m.–9 p.m.; and
    Friday and Saturday,
    5 p.m.–10 p.m.
    Reservations required.
  • Carriage rides:
    $12 for adults;
    $6 for children under 12

They’re part of the live nativity, depicting the night of Jesus Christ’s birth more than 2,000 years ago.

Along with a daytime petting zoo, these animals draw lots of people to the annual event at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Donkeys, camels, and sheep you might expect, but this year Hank came along.

The Australian red kangaroo is a toddler and has a loving and affectionate personality.

“People like him, especially when he stands up real tall, like a person, and starts scratching his belly,” Gray laughed.

Past visitors may remember his dad, Sydney, who also captured hearts at the Library.

And there have been other unique crowd favorites: a black-and-white ruffed lemur and fluffy, silky chickens.

Hank is a 1-and-a-half-year-old Australian red kangaroo who is hanging out this year with the more traditional nativity animals.

For 16 years, Gray has brought the animals from Lake Hartwell Wildlife Safari, a business she owns with her husband, Jeff. This year, there are a few babies tagging along.

Pearl, a 1-month-old white camel, still takes a bottle. “She is adorable and wants to give everyone kisses, but has the worst breath,” Gray said.

Ethel, a 3-week-old foal, stays close by her mother, Lucy—a veteran nativity donkey. Nearby, a baby lamb sticks with its mom.

Z.B., a miniature Zebu cow from India, is only 1 year old. Gray hadn’t originally planned to bring Z.B., but said, “I thought we needed a little extra for cuteness.”

The very best part for her is seeing the joy animals bring.

Jodi Gray gives Pearl a bottle.

On a warm night this past weekend, she simply listened as she stood underneath a cloudy sky near the makeshift barn.

“Hearing how much the animals mean to people and bring life to the nativity scene, that’s the coolest part of it,” she recalled.

For kids, it’s learning what the season is really about, she said—not just Santa Claus and presents, but the real reason for the season, as told in Luke 2:1–21.

“If you’re telling a child about Mary coming in on a donkey, and a child sees the donkey, they then understand,” Gray said. “Or kings coming on camels with gifts for baby Jesus.”

Among the animals you’ll see at the nativity are goats, Allie the Camel, and sheep, named for coffee flavors—Caramel, Mocha, White Chocolate, Vanilla, Mint, Bean, and Pepper.

During afternoons on Thursdays through Saturdays, kids can see the animals up close and personal at a petting zoo. Note: No petting is allowed during the evening Christmas at the Library experience.

“The way to get a child to understand something is for them to actually be able to see it, hear it, and touch it,” said Gray.

“I think it’s more of a visual thing for the kids to understand the [Christmas] story,” she said. “To see it altogether with the animals … is just a blessing.”

Bring the Whole Family: In addition to live nativity, children and parents can attend story time, enjoy a carriage ride through twinkling lights, or take The Journey of Faith tour—which tells the story of how God used Billy Graham to communicate the Gospel over the decades. Meals and sweet treats, such as hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, are available at the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Save your spot today.

Take a carriage ride through sparkling lights around the grounds of the Billy Graham Library and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters.