Traditionally, the main focus of Christmas decorations in Italy are the presepe (the word presepio is also used), meaning Nativity scene or creche.
The Nativity scene or Christmas crib is said to have originated with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 although he may not have been the first to construct one, he started the tradition when he constructed a nativity scene out of straw in a cave in the town of Greccio and held Christmas Eve mass there. Carving figurines for nativity scenes started in the 13th century.
Nearly every church will have a presepe and they are often found outdoors in a square or other public area as well.
Displays often go beyond just the nativity scene and may even include a representation of the entire village or a part of the town. The nativity scene may not accurately reflect gospel events. With no basis in the gospels, for example, the shepherds, the Magi, and the ox and ass may be displayed together at the manger.
Here locally there is a long tradition of building nativity scenes which include small models of buildings, mills or caves with elaborate mechanisms to move the figures, or turn the miniature water wheels or sets of flashing lights.
The Cultural Association – PERCHE’ LA TRADIZIONE RITORNI – Via del Giardino 137/bis-55051 BARGA – (LU) – Tel. 0583 724090 recently set out an exhibition with a series of these small models for sale to raise money for the Befana.
Presepi are usually set up for about a month, starting around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.
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