Throughout the Christian parts of the world there is a strong tradition of putting out a nativity scene, manger scene, crib, or creche in their homes and churches as Christmas approaches. Generally it’s a simple display of Mary, Joseph, perhaps the three wise men, and the important manger cradling baby Jesus.
Italians put up a presepe. It is not just a moment of time from a Biblical story. It is a constantly changing narrative of life from the time of Jesus. When’s the last time you’ve seen a nativity scene with a drunken guy in front of a trattoria?
Below is a 2 minute video to give you an introduction to the Italian Presepe.
Notes on the Italian Presepe Video
Naples is considered the Nexus of the artisan production of presepe scenes and figures. Despite the oft-heard cry of “tourist place!” from, um, tourists, the Via San Gregorio Armeno is a fascinating look into the tightly packed workshops of artisans slowly working to create new figures and popular celebrity statuettes.
Each year, like Time magazine, there is a “person of the year” named in Naples. When we were there it was Berlusconi, but this year the honor goes to Climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Tellaro La notte della Vigilia, underwater nativity scene followed by fireworks over the sea. thousands of torches to illuminate the village of Tellaro and celebrated by fireworks on the sea.
You’ll find out lots about the underwater presepi at Discover Portovenere.
Some presepi are mechanically animated, like the Presepe Artistico di Pallerone.
In the video you’ll see lots of moss. This time of year near rock outcrops you might hear the question “Cercate il muschio?” or “are you looking for moss?” It just folks out to gussy up their presepi for the new presepe season which starts on December 8. The manger with the baby Jesus doesn’t appear until Christmas eve, and the Wise Men are added on the 6th of January. The Italian version of the nativity scene isn’t stuck in time, but is a narrative with a timeline.
A detailed and interesting supplement to this for folks who wish to know more about the presepe is this article: Here are 15 curious and interesting facts about Italy’s traditional Nativity scenes.
A fantastic tour through the Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples is provided by Anne’s Italy.
A vacation in Italy, especially around the holidays, is a way to discover another side of Italian Culture.