Even though most of us are back at work and it feels like life as usual, today is only the tenth day of Christmas, which continues for twelve days from 25 December, ending on the 6th of January, Epiphany, when the Magi arrived at the stable to shower the Baby Jesus with gifts. Here in Italy presepi, nativity scenes, are still on display. As I went to see them in tiny villages and small towns, I thought of the community spirit and individual skills needed to produce these complicated constructions.
The Media Valle del Serchio (just north of Lucca and including Bagni di Lucca) is renowned for its gesso (plaster of Paris) figurines, many of which were cast to be used in presepi. Presepi come in all shapes and sizes. Many are in churches or church halls and show the artist’s conception of every day life in Bethlehem, like this one in the church at Pieve Fosciana in the Garfagnana.
The series of presepi at Pescaglia are the most fun to visit. From the main piazza you see huge shooting stars glowing in a wide semi-circle around the village, which turn out to be your guides to at least 30 imaginative presepi along the lanes and on the hillsides of the village.
At first, I was enjoying the treasure hunt too much to take photos and missed the one in the chimney pot, but here are some others.
Sometimes a whole village is turned into a presepe vivente, a living presepe, where attic’s are ransacked for pre-war clothing, children write on slates in candlelit schoolrooms, woman sit on rush chairs doing their tatting, wine is mulled over a fire in the street and at midnight real parents bring their infant, usually dressed in Baby Gap jeans, to the manger at the base of the fort at the top of the village.
The most inventive presepi are the miniature ones in the church hall at Pieve Fosciana. Several have moving parts, most include music and one of the Annunciation shows the angel Gabriel magically appearing and disappearing, which I totally failed to capture in a photo.
The prize for the kitschiest must be this one in a piazza in Lucca.
If you’re hungry for more photos of presepi, I recommend Debra Kolkka’s photos of the famous ones in Naples.