Christmas in Italy, like many other aspects of Italian culture, is rich with tradition. One of the most loved traditions for Italian families is the setting up of the Presepe, a miniature recreation of the Nativity Scene.
The 8 December marks the celebration of the Immaculate Conception and this is usually when Italian Families start building the Presepe in their homes. All the familiar characters of the Nativity Scene are present – Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds – but that’s not all! In addition, the entire village of Bethlehem is recreated. The most important detail is the crib of course, which remains empty until Baby Jesus makes his entrance and is finally placed on Christmas Eve, completing the scene. The Presepe traditionally stays out on display in Italian homes until after the Epiphany (6 January).
The tradition of the Presepe doesn’t only stop at a miniature recreation in the comfort of every Italian home; most towns also stage a live scene of the Nativity –Presepe Vivente, complete with actors, animals and of course a baby Jesus.
These are some of the most spectacular Presepi Viventi in Italy.
Greccio is famous for being the place where St. Francis would retire in prayer and meditation. Today, in an evocative setting, residents recreate the Nativity Scene complete with a music and lights show.
Near Trapani, on Sicily’s western coast, the live Nativity Scene is displayed inside a cave and it is one of the most important events of Sicilian Christmas. The landslide that buried the city in 1800 is used as stage for the Presepe Vivente.
Sassi di Matera
The stones of the city of Matera are the perfect setting to bring to life all details of the Nativity tale. Craftsmen, musicians and shepherds bring to life a beautiful representation of the Nativity in a unique setting.
San Biagio, Mantova
This small town near Mantova showcases great enthusiasm for this event, residents and real families volunteer to portray the various characters of the Nativity. Each night there are at least 150 participants in the live scene.
In the heart of the Langhe, this Nativity Scene is set up right in the centre of the borgo of Dogliani. Houses and shops of the town are transformed into artisans’ workshops with more than 350 characters.