As you arrive at Christmas at the Library and make your way down the brick path towards the Billy Graham Library, you’ll see a live manger scene. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the shepherds are all surrounded by animals. You’ll witness camels, goats, sheep, donkeys and llamas.
For the last 14 years, Jodi Gray and her team from Sam’s Path Petting Zoo have traveled from Hartwell, Georgia, to bring the animals to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Believe it or not, Jodi was raised in New Jersey and never had animals growing up. “I wasn’t even allowed to have a cat. No dog. No cat. NOTHING,” shared Gray. “No bunny. No gerbil.”
Growing up, Jodi would often travel to Hartwell to visit her grandparents. It was there she learned about ALL of the animals down the road. “My grandfather would drive me down the road two miles past their house that had all sorts of animals. Buffalo, monkeys, ostrich,” Gray said.
Then, when Gray was 21, she came to take care of her grandma who had fallen ill and needed to recover from hip surgery. While she was there, a family friend invited her to go to a local festival and wanted her to meet his best friend. At first, she wanted no part of it, but quickly changed her mind when a handsome man named Jeff showed up.
“He was so cute and adorable,” Gray said. But, before they could go to the festival, he told Gray he needed to go home and change his shirt first. They traveled two miles down the road, and suddenly, to Gray’s amazement, pulled into the very same house where her grandfather had always taken her to see all the animals. “You’re the animal guy!” she exclaimed.
Sam, the monkey, had an accident on Jeff’s shirt. He knew he was running late but wanted to meet Jodi on time. That day everything changed. The two began dating and eventually got married. Jeff’s first gift to Jodi – a llama!
The young woman who was never allowed to have pets, finally found her passion and purpose in life. In 2004, Jodi and Jeff started Sam’s Path Petting Zoo – named after Sam, the monkey that brought them together. They have traveled all over the Carolinas and Georgia sharing their love of animals, including bringing their animals to Christmas at the Library. “It has been such an honor for Sam’s Path Zoo to be a part of the Billy Graham Christmas at the Library since the beginning. We are blessed to be able to spend each Christmas season sharing the true meaning of Christmas with the Billy Graham Library family, staff and patrons who come to visit each year,” Gray said.
Those who come to Christmas at the Library at the Billy Graham Library each year experience the retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ, complete with a live Nativity depicting the very first Christmas night. Live Nativity animals for 2021 include a camel, a donkey, sheep, goats, a Zebu cow and a llama. From 11 a.m.-1 p.m. each day you can come meet some of the baby animals from the Live Nativity.
The Library’s operating hours during Christmas at the Library are Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Christmas activities begin at 5 p.m. each evening. The Library is closed on Sundays. Admission and parking at the Library is free. Reservations are required for Christmas at the Library activities.