In Rome, Prepare for Christmas with the Tradition of the Nativity

If for many Christmas is symbolized by the fir tree, the tree decorations, and by the miniatures of a jolly but belabored Santa Claus climbing into chimneys with his massive bag of gifts, then for many others the symbol of Christmas is represented by a crib.


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Specifically, it is believed by many that the true spirit of Christmas is embodied by the Crib of Baby Jesus or the Nativity Scene (Il Presepe), and this belief can be traced to the first Epiphany until the present day.  In fact, the Crib combines all holidays ranging from Christmas to the Epiphany (this year, it is January 6th), from Santa Claus and his sleigh to the Befana (the gift-giving witch) and her broomstick.

As Rome continues to embrace many different holiday decorations and traditions, it certainly has not snubbed the ancient tradition of the Crib of Baby Jesus.  Rome, however, does not stand is the source of pride in the celebration of the Crib. To see the magnificence of celebration of the Crib, one must look to Naples, where the streets of its historic centre are lined with hundreds of workshops that spend countless hours preparing handcrafted cribs for Christmas.

Image from La Gazzetta Italiana: Click to read article “The Presepe Tradition in Naples, Italy” by Margie Longano Miklas

While spending the Christmas holiday in Rome, you enjoy two amazing opportunities to discover this ancient tradition of the Crib:

Piazza del Popolo – At the Sala del Bramante in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo, there is the 39th Annual International Exhibition of “100 Cribs”, which can be visited daily from 9:30AM to 8:00PM.  The exhibition will continue until the Epiphany, January 6th.

Originally conceived by the journalist Manlio Menaglia, the Exhibition brings together these handcrafted works by artisans, institutes and associations worldwide for the enjoyment of Roman residents and tourists during the holiday season.  Among the chosen works is also one from the United States, which was selected to represent the public campaign for this year’s exhibition.

In Laurentina, on the premises of the Missionary Community of Villaregia (Comunità Missionaria di Villaregia, nature reserve Decima Malafede), one of Rome’s most green spaces and just outside the city centre, one can visit and appreciate the greatest Living Nativity Missionary of Italy (il più grande Presepe Vivente Missionario d’Italia).  The Nativity set is a colossal initiative of over two hundred people, who will be provided with thousands of costumes to create an immersive atmosphere for visitors.

Visitors will be able to retrace the history of most of the traditional and famed holiday celebrations.  The initiative takes visitors on a journey that brings them in contact with arts and crafts of the time, the native animals of the distant lands of Bethlehem and the travels of the Magi and their gifts.

Events are scheduled for the next two Sundays and the first Saturday of the new year: December 21st, December 28th, and January 3rd, from 3:30PM to 6:00PM (via Antonio Berlese 55). This year’s initiative is to benefit to sustenance of missionary work in Mozambique.

Near the Colosseum and Roman Forum, at Via Tor Dè Conti, 31, you will find the International Museum of the Nativity (Il Museo Tipologico Internazionale del Presepio).  The Museum is located below the Church of Saints Quirico and Julieta (La Chiesa di Ss Quirico e Giulitta).

There you will find numerous Nativity scenes done in Leccesian paper mache, Sicilian terracotta, wood, and ceramic, glass, gingerbread, eggs, corn leaves, mother of pearl, stone, coal, fabric, and many other works to enjoy the wonderful artisanal landscape of the Crib.

Image of Il Museo Tipologico Internazionale del Presepio from: Tourist Guide, Rome. Click to visit their website


Enjoy your Christmas in the Eternal City. Make sure to visit the majestic Christmas tree in Piazza Venezia, and to treat yourself to a tour through the unique holiday spirit of the streets of Rome with Mind the Guide.

Original Article by Samir Hassan

(Translated & Edited by Diedré Blake)

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