Street-life Nativity

December 22, 2011 / Local Interest
Napoli, Campania
In a bustling narrow alleyway in downtown Naples, Neapolitan life and Naples’ highest craft traditions merge. I can’t imagine Christmas without a walk in Via San Gregorio Armeno, nor any visit to Naples without a stop here. The sacred and the profane blend in wondrous harmony in the Neapolitan presepio tradition.

The sculpted terracotta presepe figures dressed in hand-sewn, often bejeweled, intricately-embroidered splendor are miniature images of living Napolitani today: only the outfits change. The innkeeper, the butcher, the fishmonger, the fruit vendor, the baker, the carpenter, the street musicians and singers in the piazza, and even the acquafrescaio (“seller of cold water”) are meticulously re-created by the presepio artisans. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see each one: just around the corner or in the nearest piazza or across the street from your hotel.

Look at the Neapolitan homes lovingly re-created in the presepe – with perhaps an elderly signora leaning over the balcony to lower her basket down on a rope (to be filled by the fruit vendor below, saving her a trudge three flights up). Then look up at the balconies above you. (Alright, THAT signora might have a cell phone in one hand while she lowers her basket in the other). Or feast your eyes on the bounty of the presepe fruit and vegetable stalls, where oranges, lemons and tangerines are piled in colorful pyramids. Nowadays, you’ll see vendors stocking their stands in the same way, but unloading produce from a Vespa instead of a wooden cart as in the presepe.

Modern figures, too, join the traditional personages : nowadays, near the Holy Family, you might see the figures of Obama, Berlusconi, Pavarotti, Pope Benedict XVI, the most famous Naples soccer players – or even Gheddafi! Toto’, beloved Neapolitan comic, often stars in the presepe, another “king” flanking the Magi!

Famous 18th-century architect ,Vanvitelli, dismissed the presepe Napoletano with a sniff: Pazzia collettiva di Napoli… (“collective Neapolitan madness”).

To which we say, “Viva la pazzia!”

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

11 Responses to “Street-life Nativity”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Brava Anne! You’ve captured the pazzia collectiva beautifully. Long live all that and long live Naples!

  2. Patricia Cardellio

    I love your comments Thank you for bringing Italy to us. One of these days I will contact you for a tour in Assissi This yeasr we will go to Naples and I will look for the shop you described. Buon Natale

  3. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    Anna why do you torment us so? You know that we poor ones are unable to walk the streets and delight in the wonders of Napoli.We cannot indulge the senses with the spectacular displays and alimenti that the vendors offer. Yet the torment that you have made for us is in itself a joy until next time we visit the land that is ours sometimes and yours always.

  4. Anne Robichaud particular shop: look for the entire street, Via San Gregorio Armeno / Ferrigno is the most famous preseparo / but each shop has wonders.
    Giuseppe and Penny, grateful for your notes.
    Buone feste to all…and let la pazzia live on!

  5. Ahh … food and Christmas and Italy — it doesn’t get much better than that. My favorite part of Christmas as a child was to make sure the presepio was in order: touch up paint on the figurines, put fresh straw in the manger, drape 20th century tinsel here and there. What memories today’s notebook brings back! Thank you for bringing us the exuberance of Christmas.

  6. I have been to Via San Gregorio Armeno on a foggy evening at Christmas time, with bagpipers dressed in traditional costume suddenly appearing playing ancient carols. It is a magical and moving experience.
    Buon Natale e Felice Anno nuovo a tutti!

  7. I love getting all the news from Italy. My parents were born in the Province of Lucca Tuscany. I’ve been to Italy twice and would love to go there again. It’s a beautiful country with many traditions that are not seen here in the USA. Thanks.

  8. Pru Bell-Davies

    Thank you for reminding me of where I would really like to be today – ‘Christmas Alley’ enjoying la pazzia collettiva di Napoli…My Neapolitan Presepio looks pretty good in Hampshire, UK though and causes much amusement amongst our friends, and reminds us of several happy Christmases when we lived in la bella Napoli.

  9. I was in Naples in late October and photographed the presepe. I did a post on it last week. I loved Naples and particularly this area.

  10. Jeanne Butzer

    We are looking forward to another great trip to Umbria and touring with you!


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