The Italians bring Christmas nativities to life…literally!


posted by on History & Culture


Christmas in Florence is not to be missed. To celebrate the festive season, Florence’s streets and historic centre come alive with Christmas magic. Nativities of all shapes and sizes can be found in and around Florence. Many are lifelike and others are, well, actually alive!

There are many traditions that Florentines, and all other Italians, adhere to around Christmas time. Apart from doing lots of Christmas shopping, spending time with family and friends and of course, eating far too much, Italians also have another important tradition, namely the presepe, or nativity. Nativity scenes go back a long way in Italy. In fact, nativity scenes actually originated here. In the 1200s, Saint Francis of Assisi requested a manger scene to be created in the town of Grecio. Since then, the tradition of having a nativity scene in every town and indeed, almost every household has been maintained, and in Florence at Christmas, this tradition is well and truly adhered to.

However, unlike in many other countries, the nativity scene is not just made of up the ‘regular’ figures. Sometimes these nativities can include 50 or so characters. As well as inanimate constructions, there are also ones that move mechanical they, or that are made out of unusual materials or that use products from the local area. But the best type of nativity? The one that’s real. Yes, you read that correctly. ‘Live’ nativities, or presepi viventi are commonplace in Italy, and often involve a great number of costumed locals, who play their parts for several days in a row.

Christmas in Florence - live Presepe in Casole Elba

At Christmas in Florence, you will certainly stumble on one of these unforgettable ‘performances’. Among the beauty of this artistic and historically significant city, these presepi have also become something of an art form. In the Piazza Strozzi you will come across 80 or so participants from Vejano. Although their performance originally started with just children, it was loved so much that adults also started getting involved, to create an incredible live nativity. There’s also a wonderful nativity organized by volunteers to promote the integration of those with disabilities. Choirs, concerts, and other travelling shows can also be found in the historic centre, particularly around the Piazza del Duomo.

If you venture a little further afield, you will also come across some beautiful live nativities. A reproduction of the nativity takes place in Casole d’Elsa, in the town’s historic centre. With around 250 participants bringing the story to life, it’s a truly remarkable experience. You can see Roman soldiers and shepherds, visit taverns and pop into many different workshops, such as one which demonstrates traditional bread baking. This nativity takes place on the 26tyh, 29th and 30th of December, and then again on Sunday 6th of January. Riparbella, in the province of Pisa, is another noteworthy place to visit if you want to see a nativity. While it doesn’t involve real people, it’s still a wonder to behold, due to the 140 moving mechanical figures, all set up in a former cinema.

So, this festive season why not experience Christmas in Florence, and see how many of these wonderful presepi vinventi you can discover? And what better way to do this, than with a tour of medieval and renaissance Florence with Caf Tours. This tour runs all year round and will take you to the most important and most beautiful places in this spectacular city. You never know, you might be keen to set up your own live nativity when you return home!

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