To passersby, Rosebud looks and acts like a regular ol’ donkey – cautious, friendly and always ready for a snack. On a recent weekday, when Rose Marie Corolla squatted down beneath bare oak trees and opened a box of Triscuit crackers, Rosebud ambled over and devoured the treats in his owner’s gloved hand.
Despite typical donkey behavior, Rosebud is no regular ol’ donkey. Four days each year – Dec. 22 to 25 – he is the star of the Living Nativity in Bethlehem.
“He’s quite famous,” Corolla said from the farm where she cares for Rosebud and her other two donkeys. “He’s just always been the star of the show.”
Rosebud was just 5 years old the first time he debuted in the Nativity. That was nearly two decades ago. He’s been in the Nativity every year since – well, almost every year. There was that one time things didn’t work out.
“We just couldn’t catch him,” said Kevin Croxton, Nativity organizer for the three churches involved.
Next week, before the Nativity’s 55th anniversary, Corolla will stick with a routine she put into place the year after Rosebud’s attendance difficulty. She’ll feed him inside the barn – instead of outside under a cedar tree – so she can catch and halter him after simply cornering him in the barn.
From there, Rosebud will spend the four days at the Nativity. Despite being basically a bend in the road, the town of Bethlehem attracts hundreds each year to its Nativity.
“The kids love the animals,” Corolla said. The animal acting crew also includes sheep and a cow.
Rosebud is a special hit when he does something silly, such as chew on actors’ clothes. Tom James, who plays Joseph in some of the 50-minute Nativity sessions, said he has learned to scratch Rosebud when he gets restless.
“Or the kids will feed him crackers,” James said.
During the Nativity days, Rosebud stays at the Nativity site.
“They feed him, they hay him, they are supposed to check on him every day,” Corolla said. “If I ever catch that they’re not, he won’t be going.”
Corolla is protective of her star donkey, who the day after Christmas will return to normal donkey life, which includes nibbling carrots, banana peels – “pretty much anything but meat,” Corolla said. Most days, he hangs out near a pond with his buddies, Sadie and her daughter, Daisy.
Corolla and her husband – he passed away in March – were longtime equine people. Chuck Corolla was a jockey, trainer, hot walker and a Jockey’s Guild manager. Together with Rose Marie, a former receptionist at New Castle Elementary School, he raised and sold Thoroughbreds. But Rose Marie is quick to point out that she had just as much, if not more, hands-on time with their equine friends.
“He was on the road a lot,” she said. “I took care of all of the animals. One of the Thoroughbreds had a foal while he was gone. I had to help deliver it.”
Eventually, they learned of some donkeys that also needed help.
“They needed a home, and we took them in, including Rosebud,” Corolla said. “And look at him now.”