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Italian Christmas tradition: Presepe

Ciao a tutti!!


The Christmas period is almost over but in Italy we are still celebrating, with many events held until January 7th.


One of the thing Italians like to do, especially after Christmas is going to see the “presepe” .

Presepe is a diorama representing the scene of the Holy Nativity and it is generally composed of the stable where Jesus Christ was born and the mini figures representing Jesus itself, Maria,

San Giuseppe (Jesus parents), the the wise men and many more.


Presepe is deeply rooted in our culture and one of the most important symbol of Italian Christmas; if you live in Italy or been in Italy in this period you may have heard the word “presepio” instead of “presepe”, truth is that both are correct since they are originally from two very similar latin forms: praesepe and praesepium which means crib; but during the during centuries acquired also the meaning of Nativity.(Petrarca for example used this term referring both to crib and Nativity).


The history of presepe dates back to December 25th 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi at the city of Greccio in Umbria, set up a living nativity scene (called in italian "Presepe vivente"):a presepe with living animals and people that took the role of Jesus Christ and all protagonists of the nativity.


Since then, the concept of presepe spread like wildfire, with many sculptors realizing the statuettes. Presepe boom arrived between the 17th and 19th centuries in many cities, in particular Naples, where the characters were made using terracotta and high quality fabrics was used to made beautiful clothes. During that time many characters were added, not only related to the saints but related to the daily life such as the butchers, traders, musicians and soon.

Also many buildings were added: taverns and shops started to embellish the presepe.


Presepe statuettes became pieces of arts, some of them were so expensive that 1 month of salary of a functionary wasn't t enough to buy them.


The tradition still lives today, many" presepi viventi", "presepi di ghiaccio" (a presepe made of ice) and big traditional "presepi" still attract many visitors.


Coming back to the start of this post: today we went to see the "presepe vivente" in a small medieval village in the gentle hills of Umbria called Marcellano.


This place is really immersive, while walking along the city you can see people wearing traditional cloths recalling ancient crafts.


Some traditional biscuits




Roasting some chestnuts



The fabrics market


While enjoying our tour we ate home made pizza made by the grannies of the village and drinking "Vin brulè": a hot spiced red wine.


Home made pizza (this one with onions)


Vin Brulè in a traditional cup


Then we concluded our tour seeing the nativity re enactment.



It was really realistic


Hope you enjoyed this post, next time if you come to Italy during Christmas time, make sure to visit a place where you can see a Presepe Vivente.


A presto!

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