Walk into any church in Abruzzo during December – and with regional variations, this probably applies to the rest of Italy too – and you’ll find a lovingly-built Nativity scene: the ‘presepe‘ depicting the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
But it’s a tradition that isn’t just confined to churches, because constructing a presepe is a hugely popular hobby among Italians and at craft stores and markets, you can buy items ranging from the Three Wise Men; to a tiny lamb; to an enormous ‘stage set’ on which you can build the most intricate nativity scene, complete with electrically-powered moving parts.
Our neighbour Nicolino Carosella in the nearby village of Fontepaduli has been building his own presepe outside his house for the past six years. Each year they get bigger and more elaborate and this year, it stretches right around his house.
The centrepiece of course is the nativity scene itself. You’ll notice one important absentee. The tiny blue silk crib itself is empty. As is traditional in Abruzzo, the tiny figure of the infant Jesus won’t be placed in the crib until midnight on Christmas Eve.
And in addition to the nativity scene. Nicolino has this year built a series of tableaux depicting countries of the world. The work involved is astonishing. Nicolino does it all himself and receives not a penny for his efforts. It’s a labour of love.
And each year’s display is completely different from previous years. The only constant is the centrepiece: the presepe.
Nicolino’s displays have now become a regular part of our Abruzzo Christmas. As they’re built outside his spacious house, they’re always ‘open’ and remain so until January 6 – the traditional close of the festivities.
THere’s nothing to pay. Just park your car and wander round. It’s not a sight you’re going to see anywhere else and the fact that it’s so personal and that Nicolino takes so much pleasure in your admiration and delight makes it all rather magical.