Italians celebrate Christmas in many ways, both modern and traditional. Christmas trees, which have become more common here, are a modern twist. An older and more symbolic Christmas tradition is that of the presepe (Nativity scene).
Presepi (the plural form of presepe) are displayed in family homes, churches, piazzas, and shop windows throughout the Christmas season, which stretches from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 through Epiphany on January 6. They range from small displays to life-size scenes and even to living Nativities. The very first presepe is said to have been a living Nativity created in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi as a way to tell the Christmas story.
Traditional presepi have some common elements - figurines of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus, a manger, and often some animals. Wise men are commonly included too, through the most simple presepi have only the figures of the Holy Family. The setting for the crèche varies - it’s common to see barns, caves, or stables.
Beyond those common elements, each presepe is a unique work of art. The more elaborate ones contain whole villages, which show daily life in amazing detail. These can be modern or very traditional. The villages may represent a biblical setting or they may be set in a local village. Many contain “special effects” such as water features (fountains, streams, mills with running water), lights, and even fires (with glowing embers created by tiny red lights).
This Christmas season the church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini has on display more than 20 handcrafted presepi (many pictured here). The tiniest was built in a seashell, the largest ones were comprised of whole villages, barns with haylofts and stables, desert scenes complete with camels, and one set in front of one of Lucca’s historic gates.
Although this was a competition to choose the best presepe, I wasn’t able to choose just one favorite. Seeing all of these beautiful works of art together, in the setting of 12th century church, was a moving experience. One more reason to love Christmas in Italy! - post by JMB