Today is the final day of the twelve days of Christmas, better known as Epiphany. Lucky for us it’s a national holiday. Most Italians celebrate with a family feast and treats from La Befana the Christmas Witch for the kids. Since we do not have an Italian grandmother to cook for us, or kids to stuff with candy, we chose to spend our evening doing another completely Italian Christmas tradition; we went to see a Presepe Vivente (live nativity scene).
The term Presepe usually refers to static or live nativity scenes. These are literally everywhere throughout the Christmas season, which is why I was not super stoked to go drive an hour in freezing weather to see another one. But a friend really emphasized that we couldn’t miss going to Greccio to see the original Nativity, so we shrugged and went for it. What else were we going to do in a closed down city on a Tuesday?
The town of Greccio is a tiny mountain village, whose claim to fame is its 13th century association with St. Francis of Assisi, (patron saint of Italy), and the original location of the first nativity scene outside of Bethlehem. Getting there was easy, and despite the volume of visitors for such a small town, parking was not a hassle like we expected, so we entered with good spirits.
Greccio can be walked across in about three minutes, but it’s actually a sweet little stone town with a fantastic view of snowy mountains across the valley. We stopped at the Christmas Market in the center of town before finding out that the Presepe was actually a few kilometers outside of town. So we left our easy parking and followed more signs down the main road, easily found parking again, and were surprised to find we were actually attending an elaborate outdoor play.
I mean, stadium seating, light show, fireworks, musical numbers… we had no idea. As I said, I thought we were going to see a live nativity scene, not a play, so we were about a half hour late. Not that it completely mattered, it was in Italian afterall, so we were just happy to catch the main themes and enjoy the pretty lights.
If you’re interesting in the plot, and don’t use this as a synopsis, but from what we gathered, this particular Presepe was the story of how St. Francis first conceived of, set-up, and got permission for the first Nativity Scene, that he set up in the nearby caves of Greccio. The actors used the entire hillside to act out different scenes, and sing different songs. The play ended with a recreation of the first Presepe being set up in a cave.
Even though we only understood a fraction of what was going on, we had a good time. Overall, a great way to close the holiday season, and be part of a tradition that has been going on since the year 1288. We’ll be very happy to be spending Christmas with family next year, but I’ll never regret taking the opportunity to see stuff like this.
I hope everyone else had a great holiday!