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Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009
The trail of the knitted Nativity
Mary, Joseph and donkey Nativity figures
The eight-inch knitted Nativity figures are spreading the Christmas message

Here's a Christmas conundrum. What do you do if the maternity wards are full and there is no room at the inn?

Parishioners in Arbury are helping to solve the problem by offering overnight accommodation to Mary, Joseph and their donkey.

The small knitted Nativity figures are being offered a new home every night.

Rev'd David Maher of the Church of the Good Shepherd, says it is to remind people to "make space in their lives for the Christmas story".

Las Posadas

A traditional Mexican celebration dating from the 16th century is alive and well in Arbury, a residential area in the north of Cambridge.

Las Posadas, which in Spanish means 'the inns' or 'shelter', is a nine-day festival commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and their search for a place for their child to be born.

So, what does this have to do with Cambridge?

Well, the Rev'd David Maher and the parish curate, the Rev'd Anthony Lees-Smith thought that adopting this ancient tradition would be the perfect way to spread the message of Christmas - and a little seasonal cheer at the same time.

The little knitted Nativity scene was created for the Church of the Good Shepherd by Phil Barringer, a local parishioner. It was so impressive that David and Anthony wanted to share it with everyone.

Celebrity appearances

They were both aware of the Posada celebrations and decided that they would ask the good folk of Arbury to offer hospitality in their homes for one night, to help Mary, Joseph and their donkey make the safe journey to the church crib.

Children with Nativity characters
Children at King's Hedges school invited the characters to assembly

One after another, churchgoers signed up to take the expectant family (and donkey) into their homes. In fact, the idea has proved so popular that the trio are now having to make appearances at community events to enable more people to meet them!

Arbury's version of Posada lasts longer than the nine-day Mexican festival. The knitted Nativity has been doing the rounds since the end of November and the trio move into new dwellings every night until 24 December. So there's certainly no shortage of inns in this little corner of Cambridge!

"I think our Mary and Joseph are having a lot better time than the original ones," David Maher told us.

"They walked about 75 miles on dusty roads and there weren't places for them to stay so easily; whereas here they've been very welcomed and very well-received."

Bike to Bethlehem

The Nativity characters' new-found celebrity means that they have enjoyed the very best accommodation and transportation Arbury has to offer.

Watch: Mike Liggins reports on the knitted Nativity for Look East Unplanned

They've taken a ride on a bus (well, it's better than walking) and they've even hitched a lift on a JCB digger, working on the new Orchard Park development.

BBC Look East has also taken an interest, with Mike Liggins choosing to feature the knitted Nativity as part of the show's 'unplanned' week.

David got in touch with the BBC and invited Mike and the cameras to meet Mary, Joseph and the donkey. While there, he discovered that the Reverend is actually a bit of a biker, and the proud owner of a Triumph motorcycle.

And yes, he did take the threesome for a burn-up, strapped to the front of the bike! You can see the video of that little adventure on this page.

Warm welcome

Although the knitted figures have caused quite a stir in the media, there's a more serious message behind this idea. Mary, Joseph and the donkey are delivered to their new homes complete with prayers and blessings for both the community and the wider world.

When they arrive, they are welcomed in, and the new 'guardians' offer hospitality to whoever has delivered the characters. This might be as simple as a cup of tea, a glass of mulled wine, or sometimes an offer to join the new hosts for dinner.

Mary, Joseph and donkey Nativity figures
Modern day transport - all aboard a JCB at Orchard Park

It is, says David, a wonderful way of involving everyone in the community in the story of Christmas.

"By Mary and Joseph going around, we're sharing in their journey, and the expectation of Jesus coming at Christmas."

The last stop on Mary and Joseph's journey will be the 3pm crib service on Christmas Eve at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Mansel Way, Arbury.

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