Friday, December 17, 2004

Another Italian Christmas Tradition

An Italian Presepio. [Photo uncredited from Internet]

A Christmas family tradition which we brought with us as immigrants from Sicily was the "Presepio" [Crèche or Manger]. It was more than just a Manger scene, my Dad who was in charge of putting it together, went to great lengths to create a complete Bethlehem environment. He would lay out a miniature countryside: spongy shrubs with hunters; fields with farmers; shepherds and sheep on hillsides; a carpenter at his outdoor workbench; a fisherman near a pond with ducks floating on its mirror water. There was a small village, with a cloth night sky and Christmas Star backdrop. The Manger would often be a cave fashioned out of logs or crushed bags (later he would switch to a small, wooden animal stall). My Dad would finish his creation by sprinkling baby powder for a snowy effect (not unlike his last sprinklings of grated Romano cheese on one of his savory pasta dishes!) In the dark, with only the lights from the small village houses the Presepio had an enchanting effect, epitomizing Christmas for our family.

This was important: No Bambineddu - Baby Jesus - was in the crib, it was kept empty till after midnight Christmas Eve (when we opened our gifts) or on Christmas Day - when my Dad would surreptitiously replace a small statuette of a sleeping shepherd atop the cave or stall, with a shepherd shouting the news of Jesus' birth! When I was little it never ceased to amaze me - the statue coming to life! Surely, it was a miracle! The drama didn't end there. For the next 12 days, we children would move three small, multicultural statuettes of the Three Wise Kings (including a camels) a little bit closer to the Manger every day, arriving finally on January 6th - the Feast of the Epiphany - and on that last day of Christmas, the Three Wise Men would surrender their gifts to the Baby Jesus.

For a few years we didn't have a Christmas Tree - who needed one with such glorious theater in miniature? Eventually, as the years passed and we became more Americanized, the Manger scene was integrated with the traditional Christmas Tree, placed beneath it and surrounded by all the presents. It seemed that Jesus' birth had lost something - something in its scale - literally because it was overwhelmed by a giant tree and presents, and symbolically by the new culture we accepted, symbolized the Christmas Tree.

My Mom has saved all of the Christmas statuettes and props. Today she only puts a few elements out, mainly the Manger with its star cast Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. I hope that my Dad, locked in his Alzheimer's dream world, is recreating the same wonderful, magic miniature world of Christmas that brought so much joy to his children.

Buon Natale, Papá!

[Via All The Grey In Between]

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