Living nativity scenes in Italy (Live Christmas crèches)

(updated december 2013)

Living nativity scene Genga

Living nativity scene of Genga, Marche. Photo:


Many towns in Italy celebrate the centuries-old Italian tradition of Christmas crèches with traditional wooden or ceramic statues, but some villages are so keen on the tradition that the roles are performed by local people. The living nativity scene then takes to the streets with human performers costumed as Joseph and Mary walking through the town and settling in front of the church. Each town re-enacts its own version of the nativity scene, sometimes over several days, usually on Christmas Day, December 26, January 6 and on the day of the Epiphany, when the three Wise Men, the Magi, brought their gifts to baby Jesus. Often, the ancient town’s crafts and trades are represented as well, recreating the entire village of times gone.

Ancient trades and small shops of the Presepe Vivente in Custonaci, Sicily


Greccio, Lazio

The living nativity scene of Greccio, probably the most ancient nativity scene in the world, dates back to 1223. It is in this town of the province of Rieti that the tradition of commemorating the nativity scene originated. The representation evolves through six stages, each of which tells a different aspect of the origin of the first living nativity scene as desired by San Francesco of Assisi in 1223. See: Christmas in Italy.

Opening hours: December 24, 2013 at 22:30 and December 26, 28, 2013 and January 1, 4, 5 and 6, 2014 at 17:45.


Barga Vecchia, Tuscany

In Tuscany, the beautiful medieval hill town of Barga Vecchia has a living nativity scene and procession with 200 costumed people walking through the town from Piazza Garibaldi to the Duomo.

Opening hours: December 23, 2013 at 20:00.


Corchiano, Lazio


a lifesize nativity scene will be on display in the lanes of Corchiano on December 25, 26, 28, 29, 2013 and January 1, 5, 6, 2014 at 17:45 and 18:45.


Custonaci, Sicily

In Custonaci, a tiny town near Trapani in Sicily, the nativity scene is re-enacted inside a cave. It is also a way for the town to commemorate the ancient, once flourishing, village that was buried by a landslide in the 1800s. It is one of Sicily’s most important Christmas events, with about 160 costumed people participating to the nativity, bringing the town’s ancient trades and small shops to live.

Opening hours: December 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 2013 and January 4, 5 and 6, 2014 (from 16:00).


Canosa di Puglia, Puglia

For more than 10 years now, Canosa di Puglia, near Bari, has organized a living nativity in one of the most beautiful and enchanting locations. More than 300 costumed performers of all ages participate in this truly evocative setting.

Opening hours: December 26, 28 and 29, 2013 and January 2, 4, 5 and 6, 2014 (17:30 – 20:30).


Morcone, Campania

The event in Morcone, in the province of Benevento, is referred to as “Presepe nel Presepe“, because the town itself is a little gem. One of the oldest villages of the Campania, it is one of these typical medieval towns with winding narrow streets and alleys that are filled with staircases

Opening hours: from January 3 to January 4, 2014


Talamona, Lombardy

Talamona, in the province of Sondrio, Lombardy, is known as ‘il paese dei presepi‘ (the village of the nativity scenes). On Christmas Eve you’ll find at least ten living nativity scenes here.

On January 3, 2014 there is a “Presepe Vivente Itinerante” (itinerant nativity scene) at 20:00, starting from the center of the village to the Church S. Girolamo.


Rivisondoli, Abruzzo

In the Abruzzo region, Rivisondoli’s living nativity scene includes hundreds of costumed people dramatizing the arrival of the Three Kings on Epiphany and a living nativity on December 24 and 25. It is one of the most ancient living nativity scenes of Italy, with its first edition going back to 1951.


Genga, Marche

In a wider sense among the largest living nativity scenes in the world, the Christmas crib of Genga, in the province of Ancona, takes is set in an enchanting place, the Frasasi caves (Grotte di Frasassi).

Genga cave

Opening hours: December 26 and January 3 (from 15.30) (Please note that the dates for this year are not confirmed yet!).


Tricase, Puglia

The nativity scene of Tricase, in the province of Lecce, is one of the eight most long-lived Christmas cribs of Southern Italy, which explains why the town is sometimes referred to as the ‘Bethlehem of Italy‘.

Opening hours: December 25, 26, 28 and 29, 2013 and January 1, 4, 5 and 6, 2014 (from 17:00 to 20:30).

Photo credits (top to bottom): Presepe di Genga ©; Custonaci by Emanuele Bellini; Greccio by Raffaele Birnardo; Corchiano by Bricke; Custonaci by Emanuele Bellini; Genga cave by oRi0n; Tricase ©

Presepe nel Pozzo, the underground nativity scene in Orvieto

Presepe nel pozzo in Orvieto

The Presepe nel Pozzo of Orvieto is a wonderful animated nativity scene staged in an Etruscan cave located at the end of the underground archaeological itinerary of Pozzo della Cava, in the medieval district of Orvieto, in Umbria.

The realistic characters of this unusual underground nativity scene are life-size figures, animated by techniques and special effects used in stage and film.

Year after year the Orvieto Christmas Crib follows a different theme, offering each time a different interpretation based on a philological game involving tradition and sacred texts.

From Dec. 23 to the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany
Pozzo della Cava – Via della Cava 28 – Orvieto – Italy
phone 0039/0763.342.373 – fax 0039/0763.341.029


See also: Umbria