The wooden nativity cabinet graces Flag Market every year, with the original Italian-crafted statues still in use after more than 50 years.
But thieves reportedly smashed their way into the wooden Nativity scene sometime this morning (Tuesday, December 21), snatching baby Jesus from his crib.
The Nativity scene was also vandalised, with a number of figures knocked over in the sacrilegious smash and grab.
After news of the theft spread, Preston City Council urged the perpetrator to return the statue to the Town Hall before Christmas day.
"Sadly, Preston's well-loved nativity scene has been vandalised and baby Jesus is missing," a spokesman for the council said.
"This is a very popular scene with residents and visitors. Please bring him to the Town Hall before Christmas so he can be returned to the display.
"The council's maintenance team have since repaired the crib, so visitors to Preston can still visit this popular attraction in the meantime."
The theft sparked outrage, with many readers taking to social media to voice their disgust.
One person wrote: "Why would someone do that?
"So disrespectful. Hopefully whoever did this grows a conscience and returns it."
Another said: "This is sad news. What on earth possesses someone to do this.
"Nothing is sacred these days. We can only live in hope that it's found."
The nativity scene outside the Harris Museum has become a well-loved Christmas tradition since it was first unveiled more than half a century ago.
Sadly, it is not the first time the cherished Nativity scene has been targeted by lowlifes.
In 2018, vandals sparked outrage when they smashed the plastic display window and toppled statues of Jesus and Mary.
Lancashire Police have been approached for comment.
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