One of the Italian traditions I miss during Christmas time is all those nativity scenes you see everywhere at this time of year.
Long before the Christmas tree came in vogue in Italy the majority of homes would make a “presepe” or a nativity scene. Now it seems that the custom of the Christmas tree is slowly blurring the tradition of making a presepe although still every church has one like many village squares, coffee bars and many shops too.
Nativities are displayed from the 8th of December through the 6th of January, Epiphany day, with the arrival of the three Kings who take gifts to baby Jesus.
It is said that it was St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 to make the first live nativity representation in his small town of Greccio in the province of Rieti as to re-live the birth of Christ; he invited locals to play the main characters of the Gospel. He subsequently he created the first nativity scene in a cave.
The best place to go and visit nativity scenes is Naples where you will find proper works of art mostly hand made by local artisans. The main streets in central Naples are filled with stalls and displays of Nativity scenes. But all over Italy you can find very interesting displays, some made of sand like the one in Lignano Sabbiadoro I visited last year.
I took these photos last year when I went to visit a local man in my village who makes a rather large nativity scene in his home for the whole village to see. He constructed a small mill which can really ground maize into flour, small rivers with running water, day and night lights with stars in the sky, thunder and rain! So ingenious and inventive, I was amazed at his stunning work.
So, If you happen to visit Italy during the Christmas festivities look for these displays as they are proper works of art!