In the little city of Frostproof, Fla., however, people are asking, "Where would Jesus go?"
A plastic baby Jesus, accompanied by a plywood donkey, vanished from his manger sometime after the annual Christmas parade Dec. 1.
"It kind of makes you wonder about people -- no respect," said Frostproof Vice Mayor Anne Dickinson, who has lived in this rural community in Polk County for most of her 81 years.
Apparently, Jesus has become something of a modern-day wandering Jew -- and not just in Frostproof.
In 2007 in the South Florida village of Wellington, a donated Italian-ceramic Jesus worth about $1,800 went AWOL, village Deputy Manager John Bonde said. So did a replacement.
Then a worker in the Public Works Department thought, hey, why not use a GPS tracker from our fleet to keep tabs on Jesus?
It worked. When he was kidnapped in 2008, Jesus was found in someone's living room within hours. By 2009, pranksters had caught on. A GPS map showed him traveling around the community center, pool and tennis courts.
"That was pretty funny, pretty imaginative," Bonde said.
A New York City company, BrickHouse Security, had the same idea. This is the seventh year for its Saving Jesus program. "Jesus saves, but who's saving Jesus?" the company asks in its promotion.
BrickHouse Security Chief Executive Officer Todd Morris heard about figurines being stolen from creches across the country and decided to offer GPS trackers free as a holiday goodwill gesture, mostly to churches and other nonprofits. They've been used for decorations and at least one menorah, but baby Jesus is by far the most popular target, he said.
Hundreds of groups have used the service, and not one Jesus has gone for a joy ride under its protection, said Marc Horowitz, the company's editorial director. The key is to publicize the GPS so practical jokers are warned that finding Jesus would be a snap.
"If you're out and you've had a couple of drinks and you're looking to pull a prank, this would not be a good idea," Horowitz advised.
In Frostproof, City Council member Diana Webster-Biehl replaced the missing Messiah with a doll her 38-year-old daughter cuddled as a baby, but she hasn't given much thought to trying a GPS to prevent another abduction.
"Maybe we should think about it," Vice Mayor Dickinson said. "Catch them red-handed."
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