Il Presepe, a Family Tradition

Il PRESEPE, a Family Tradition

Dec 21, 2020Donatella Mulvoni

Presepe, the Nativity scene, is a beloved Christmas tradition for many Italian families.


Presepe or Presepio?

Presepe or Presepio (in Italy there is a great debate about the right name, but both are widely accepted) represents the classic scene of nativity with Mary (the Madonna), Joseph (San Giuseppe), Baby Jesus (Gesù Bambino); the ox the and the donkey (il bue e l'asinello) warming the baby in the manger (la mangiatoia, the crib) with their breath; the shepherds (I pastorelli) and – on January 6th, the three Wise Men bearing gifts for the child. This is one of Italy's oldest Christmas traditions. According to history, the father of Presepe was St. Francis of Assisi who recreated the Nativity using real people and live animals. Today this is an intimate family tradition; every home has its beloved statuettes and decoration secrets. Some families go big, building the whole village with everyday life scenes.


San Gregorio Armeno in Naples

If you wish to live the authentic Neapolitan Christmas, you should visit this gem. San Gregorio Armeno – a beautiful street in the historical district of Naples – is the Italian capital of Presepe. Here, you will find the finest and even funniest markets and exhibitions completely dedicated to the Nativity. In this Christmas Alley, modern day skilled Neapolitan craftsmen are still creating stunning pieces and statuettes, some resembling real people from the contemporary world. For example, you could see famous politicians, famed athletes (especially the stars of Italian soccer), movie stars, and other current celebrities. You will marvel at the sight of American personalities like POTUS and FLOTUS. The artists always pay attention to the United States’ presidents: so, you will admire Mr. Donald Trump and Mrs. Melania in the Presepe village, among the shepherds and farmers. During the holiday season, San Gregorio Armeno is one of the most popular touristic attractions. You can also buy your customized Presepe. The prices range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars.


In popular culture...

The Nativity is often present in popular culture. In the Neapolitan play “Natale in casa Cupiello” (Christmas at the Cupiello's) – the most famous Italian comedy-drama about Christmas – the Nativity is the silent and powerful star. The line in Neapolitan dialect, “T piac o’ Presep?” (do you like the Nativity?) is nowadays a sort of funny meme during the Holiday Season.


Presepe and Food

Another really important piece of the conventional Presepe is food. After all, we’re still Italian! Among the classic characters, the village includes the butcher (il macellaio) and his meats; the merchant (il mercante) with is goods; the baker (il fornaio) with several kinds of breads and loaves; the farmer (il contadino), carrying vegetables. An interesting variation is the theatrical Presepe Vivente (The Living Nativity), popular in some beautiful Italian villages. In this case, the main characters are real people. The visitors walk through the village and enjoy local specialties from the farmers’ stands.

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