(updated december 2013)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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, 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.
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.
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).
Opening hours: December 26 and January 3 (from 15.30) (Please note that the dates for this year are not confirmed yet!).
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 © presepedigenga.it; Custonaci by Emanuele Bellini; Greccio by Raffaele Birnardo; Corchiano by Bricke; Custonaci by Emanuele Bellini; Genga cave by oRi0n; Tricase © presepeviventetricase.it.