In almost every Italian home at Christmas you will find a presepio—a Nativity scene or a Christmas crib. Some presepi are enormous with life-size figures; some are so tiny that they fit into an egg shell. Some are elaborate with several floors over the manger, picnics in the adjacent yard, pots and pans, and food galore; some are simple with only Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. You really must have a presepio if you live in Italy, and we do.
We bought our presepio at the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona in 2011. Our original presepio was quite simple with Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, an angel, the three wisemen, a camel, a cow, and a donkey.
Last year I decided to add a pig and a sheep. Because I didn’t take the cow, donkey, or camel with me, I brought home a pig and a sheep that look as if they are on steroids! They are as big as the cow, and they dwarf the poor donkey, but they are such nice figurines! I couldn’t bear to throw them away, so last year they stood guard over the presepio. This Christmas they are guarding our one-foot Christmas tree. Don’t mess with it!
This year we’ve gone whole hog, so to speak. I took one of the figurines with me to the Christmas market and got a perfect new pig and three perfect new sheep. I also got two bunnies—an adult and a baby—a rooster, and a bird. They all look very cool. But we had sheep with no shepherds, so we had to add one, right? Of course. We added a shepherd and his son. The shepherd has balance issues (I can relate), probably from carrying a sheep over his shoulder. If I pick the dad shepherd up, I have to hold him lightly for a couple of seconds after I set him down or he topples to the right. I’m sure he’s hoping for a miracle. I know I am.
Other trips to Piazza Navona added a lantern over the Baby Jesus and lights throughout the manger. Three wine barrels perch in the rafters. The barrels don’t have labels, but I’m hoping for a Brunello or some outstanding Super Tuscan. They do age those expensive wines in plastic, don’t they?
We’ve learned other things about the Italian presepi. The Baby Jesus doesn’t go into the manger until Christmas Eve, because he wasn’t born until then. Our Baby Jesus is waiting in his plastic bag in our silverware drawer until this evening. The magi don’t arrive until Christmas Eve either, and the son of one of my friends marches the magi from their front door on December 8 to the manger on Christmas Eve. He makes sure that the magi arrive exactly on time!
We wish you happy, happy holidays full of lovely traditions, and may all of your pigs and sheep be the right size!
P.S., This post is for our niece Suzie, who asked for presepio photos in 2011. Here they are, Suzie, with lots of love.