Last year, we started putting up a presepe (nativity scene) alongside our Christmas tree. While Christmas trees are relatively new here (indeed, N’s family didn’t have one when he was growing up, nor does he remember anyone else who did,) presepi have been traditional for centuries. According to legend, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) created the very first one at Greccio, an episode which is included in the fresco cycle illustrating Francis’ life in the upper basilica at Assisi. The earliest presepi were put up in churches and public spaces; it wasn’t until several centuries later that people began to display them in their houses.
I think our presepe is fairly typical, in that it is a combination of some purchased pieces and other pieces made at home with simple materials, like cardboard and paper. It’s still relatively small because we haven’t had much time to amass a collection of figures and buildings. This year I had planned to make another house, a shop, and a well, but other projects took my time.
(Here I want to apologize for the poor quality of the photos. I held off on posting this while trying to get better ones, but given the lighting conditions in our living room and the small size of the various pieces of the presepe, I just was not able to do it. But I did want to share this, so I’ve decided to go ahead and post it, even with the horrid pictures.)
This is the first of two houses I made last year. I used a shoe box, wrapping paper, and some other bits of things I had around the house, as well as some moss and cork we bought specifically for the presepe.
I made my second house from three small boxes left over from our wedding favors (which just happened to be terra-cotta presepe figures.)
To the right of the tower house is a cave I made from an interestingly shaped piece of packing material. Above the cave is a rough shelter I made of a few pieces of bark from one of our trees. There’s another one located just above the nativity shed, somewhat hidden by the form of the mountain. I also made the rather pathetic ruined rocca (castle) that appears in the upper right of the presepe.
N formed the mountains with paper made especially for presepi and put in a string of lights that illuminates all the structures. I arranged the buildings and then Pata and I laid the pebbles for the road and placed the figures throughout the scene. Its aspect changes daily as Pata moves the animals and figures around, making it the most dynamic Christmas decoration in our house.