The best Nativity scenes to visit in Italy


I think we all lose sight of what Christmas is all about and how it came to be in the first place. We are so busy worrying about buying exactly what we hope someone will, never sure if it will become a “re-present” or just end up in the landfill. We are also so busy worrying about making it “the best Christmas ever” for our family and friends, that we end up stressed, burnt out and quite frankly, miserable, just waiting for the holidays to be over and so we can get back to normal again.


It is no coincidence that all the January editions of the magazines are full of self help guides, diets, stress busters and ways to make and keep New Year resolutions.

Presepe - the Nativity scenes.


And this is why I love the tradition in Italy, especially Naples, of the Presepe - the Nativity scenes. Some of them are the usual ones that sit on a table in the house, but the best, in my opinion, are the full sized, real life Nativity that you will see in churches and on street corners in every town and village in Italy.


Presepe means crib and via San Gregoria Aremno, which is located in the historic centre of Naples is a must see at Chritsmastime, where hundreds of shops feature hand-made presepi. Here you can watch the skilled craftsmen carve and paint the figures that make up the Nativity scenes.

The presepi are put up on the 8th December, but the Baby Jesus isn’t added until Christmas Eve and the Kings come in on the 6th January. There is usually a whole village of characters set around the manger, with animals.


St Francis of Assisi is the one credited with making the presepe popular,after he visited Bethlehem and was really moved by the Nativity scenes he saw there. He used live animals and real people for his Nativity scenes and the first one was created in his cave near Greccio in Lazio in 1223. Many churches and towns follow this still, with live donkeys and cows and real people.



Venice


Venice has its own floating nativity (of course!). Created by a local grocer, Francesco Orazio, out of plywood, he and his brothers set up this amazing scene just off the Island of Burano. They will make sure it is well and truly anchored this year, as a storm damaged it last year, although they did manage to set it back up again, with the help of the locals in their boats, in time for Bufana to make her appearance.



Emilia-Romagna


In Emilia-Romagna, the town of Cesenatico use the historic ships that are part of the Marine Museum to re-create an old fishing village with life-size models made of wood. There are fishermen, musicians, women and children, as well as the more traditional shepherds and of course the Holy Family. The lights from the boats are reflected on the river at night, making it a really magical spectacle!




Manarola


Maybe one of the biggest presepe is in the town of Manarola, in Cinque Terre. Here they use an entire hill, Colle delle Tre Croci and put up 300 figures, houses, animals, shepherds and the Holy Family. The life-sized figures are made of recycled materials and light it up with thousands of lights and this year they are celebrating 60 years of the tradition.







Arezzo


For a live nativity scene, then one of my favourites is in Le Ville Monterchi, Arezzo. The town is transformed into a living nativity scene where the streets of the town are illuminated by torches and candles. There are backdrops with paintings of shops, carpenters, blacksmights, laundresses, fishermen, etc all leading up to a hut with the Holy Family. Volunteers act out the parts of all the shopkeepers and villagers creating a really special atmosphere.





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