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Presepe - Nativity sceneItalian families all over Italy are getting ready to celebrate Christmas in their homes.

In the cities decorations and Christmas trees adorn streets and squares, while many churches display nativity scenes.

A nativity scene (Presepe, in Italian) is a representation of the nativity story of Christ, and can be done in a live form (Presepe vivente), with people representing different characters, or in a static form, with figurines in a diorama-like representation.

Nativity scenes are a true Italian tradition since they were first started by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223. This tradition soon grew to be an art form and became very sophisticated in the Italian city of Naples during the Baroque era.

Nowadays beautiful nativity scenes are displayed in people’s homes and in churches throughout Italy. Families get together to assemble intricate representations of pastoral scenes and villages, using figurines and different kinds of materials. Children delight in observing all the tiny details of the characters, their homes and their surroundings. They usually move the different characters every day, so that even a static nativity scene is not completely static. The shepherds move forward, the sheep gather around a water fountain, and the three Kings get a bit closer to the manger every day.

In southern Italy, especially Sicily, living nativity scenes are extremely popular, and are usually very elaborate. They feature the classic nativity scene and a representation of a rural village, complete with artisans in traditional costumes working at their particular trades.

You can search the web for images representing Italian nativity scenes or, if you happen to visit Italy during Christmas, don’t forget to go and see at least one Presepe in one of the major churches or, better yet, a live representation. You will surely feel transported back in time by this very old and interesting Italian tradition.

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