Once again, at this festive but fraught time of year, we are beset by a tragic spate of child abductions. I refer, of course, to Baby Jesus.
All over America, Nativity scenes awake one morning to find the center-stage spot they are all reverently staring at contains an empty manger, or even just a scattering of straw.
We begin our sad police blotter in Carlisle, Cumberland County, where a 67-year-old woman reported Baby Jesus missing from the Nativity scene outside her home last Thursday. He was last seen wearing a red manger and a white painted cloth.
The truly heartbreaking aspect of this theft is this, as reported by the Patriot-News: "The victim said the Nativity scene was painted by her husband, who recently died, and would like to have it returned," although that particular sentence could have been crafted more felicitously.
In Quincy, Mass., the holy infant at Quincy Center has been pinched twice in eight years. Fortunately, someone has found Jesus.
The ceramic figure was discovered a half-mile away from the cemetery where it had been bolted down in its cradle, presumably because the previous fiberglass Baby Jesus had been stolen in 2004. That figure was found floating in a local river days later; no arrests were ever made.
In Frostproof, Fla., a real place, the city's Nativity is out not only the Baby Jesus doll but also a plywood donkey.
A cash reward has been offered for the return of the missing figures, and the mayor is hopeful the thief will drop them off at city hall. But the 4- by 6-foot donkey may not turn up until a few days before the next big storm, when it's nailed over someone's windows.
Back to Pennsylvania for our next incident: The good news is that the vintage baby stolen from a church's Nativity last year in Chambersburg, Franklin County, has returned, as Jesus is wont to do. The bad news is that the replacement has now disappeared.
Last year's Jesus appeared cradled in the arms of a Civil War soldier statue just across the town square on Dec. 2.
Hours later, Central Presbyterian Church's new Jesus, donated by a local business to fill the gap when the Nativity was deployed last month, was snatched.
According to an Associated Press report, congregant Buffy Super, who has just about the best name ever, called the original statue's return a "Christmas miracle." That may be too strong a characterization, unless Jesus was actually found and rescued by the bronze Civil War soldier who was holding him.
Another churchgoer remarked that the statue may in the future have to be secured to prevent theft; the church may want to talk to the cemetery officials in Massachusetts about the efficacy of bolting Jesus to his manger.
Our final report comes from South Bend, Ind., where the South Bend Chocolate Café put up a Nativity scene around Thanksgiving, only to find two weeks later that Baby Jesus was gone.
"There's no other word for it, it's just nasty," South Bend resident Rabbi Rob Weber told Local News Leader WSBT.
Pastor Matthew Cowden of St. Michael's All Angels Episcopal Church also weighed in: "We're always joking, put the Jesus back in Christmas -- put the Jesus back in the manger at the South Bend Chocolate Company!"
And in case you were wondering, WSBT reports, "It's not possible that Jesus blew away.
"This is a quality nativity scene made of sound products."
May your babies come home safe, may your scenes be quality, and may your products be sound.
Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas.
Samantha Bennett, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.