Friends and visitors often ask us what Christmas is like in Italy and whether there are different traditions from those we were used to in the UK. One of the things that stands out is the nativity scene. For sure, there are nativity scenes in every church in the UK, and a few in private houses too, but here in Italy, nativity scenes, or presepi (cribs), are ubiquitous. Almost every shop has a nativity scene on display in the window, and in the smaller villages scenes can be found laid out on people's doorsteps, in window boxes, on wine barrels, in fountains - basically anywhere that could conceivably act as a backdrop. Nativity scenes range from the very classical wooden or clay painted figures to modern interpretations involving imaginative uses of materials including pasta, cork and ironmongery.
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It turns out that we owe thanks to Saint Francis for beginning the tradition of the nativity scene, as it was he who, on Christmas Eve in 1223, first re-enacted the story of the birth of Jesus (complete with royal characters, shepherds, peasants, friars and nobles) in the Italian town of Greccio.
It wasn't long after that - in 1280 - that the first nativity "scene" was created by Arnolfo di Cambio, whose carved wooden figures are still preserved in the crypt of the Sistine Chapel, and the tradition has continued in various forms since then.
To enter into the Christmas spirit and give a flavour of the range and diversity of nativity scenes on display in our local area, as well as the imagination that goes into them, we have put together a collection of just some of those that we and our friends have spotted and photographed.
Wishing you a very happy Christmas and all good wishes for 2021.