“Presepi” of Italy: a Christmas tradition

Jingle bells, jingle bells…here comes the time for Christmas decorations in Italy!!! The most important tradition is connected to the Nativity scene, called presepe or presepio in Italian language.

Every church and every family has its own presepe. You can find it in the middle of the squares, outside the shops, and in many public areas. The manger scene is a must but you can expect much more: the representation collect often the entire village!

When do Italians make a Presepe (Christmas crib)? They set up it  starting December 8, that is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, and you put back in the storage room on January 6, that is the Epiphany.

Figurines for nativity scenes are made in many parts of Italy, but the  best are certainly coming from Naples and Sicily. Baby Jesus is added on Christmas Eve.

The Nativity scene representation has a long history: it is said to have origins with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, when he builded a nativity scene in a cave close to the town of Greccio, which reenacts this event each year. There it has been held the first Christmas Eve mass and a nativity pageant.

Carving figurines for nativity scenes started in the late 13th century: thanks to Arnolfo di Cambio who had to carve marble nativity figures for the first Rome Jubilee held in 1300. The original nativity can be seen in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore Church. Many are the museum dedicated to the “presepe”.

Il Museo Nazionale di San Martino is in Naples and boast a fab and very elaborate collection of nativity scenes starting from the 1800s. Il Museo Tipologico Nazionale del Presepio is under the church of Saints Quirico e Giulitta in Rome, and exhibits over 3000 figurines from all over the world! The museum has very limited opening hours: closed in the summer but open each afternoon December 24-January 6.


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