Published: 19-10-2012, 07:37

Christmas in Italy: Nativity Scenes and Ceppos

Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Markets

Christmas in Italy: Pre-Christmas Celebrations and Observances

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Eve

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Day

Christmas in Italy: New Year

Christmas in Italy: Epiphany

Many writers believe that St. Francis (c. 1181-1226), born in Assisi, Italy, created the first Nativity scene. According to legend, he staged a living Nativity scene in 1224 in a cave near the Italian village of Greccio. Francis hoped that the scene would impress viewers with the wonder of Christ’s birth. The custom quickly caught on. Today, Italians still cherish their Nativity scenes. Churches and homes throughout Italy display these scenes in the weeks before Christmas. In some Italian villages, people create living Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve. Costumed villagers and visitors make a pilgrimage to the life-sized stable, where a living Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus await them. Nativity scenes are so popular in Italy that they may even be found in gas stations, city squares, airports, post offices, railway stations, and shop windows. Italians place the baby Jesus figurine in his crib on Christmas Eve. The Three Kings, or Magi, often do not reach the manger until Epiphany.

Although the Nativity scene is the focus of home Christmas decorations in Italy, many families also construct a ceppo, or Christmas pyramid. Ceppo means "log” in Italian, and some researchers believe that it acquired that name because it replaced the once-popular Yule log. This pyramidal arrangement of shelves may be used to display Christmas symbols, sweets, cards, candles, and small gifts.