The typical Neapolitan Presepe, along with the pipers, the tombolata and the typical dinner menu of Christmas’ Eve, is one of the most intense symbols of the Christmas tradition in Naples.
The word “Presepe” comes from the latin praesepe that means what stands before the hedge, that is the “manger”. At the beginning, just like other Christian religions where there was the tradition of the Presepe, it represented in fact the classic Nativity scene, with the baby in the manger, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, the ox and the little donkey.
The presepe from Naples is a representation of the nativity scene that traditionally takes place in Naples during the Eighteenth century.
Below: the Nativity scene in a traditional Neapolitan presepe
The first Presepe in Naples is mentioned in a document that tells about a presepe in S. Maria of presepe church in 1025.
In the seventeenth century the Presepe became bigger, together with the cave, the profane and everyday life scenes started to be represented as well.
It is possible to attribute a specific meaning to every single character from Presepe and even to the single elements that composes the entire scene.
Some of the characters are: Benino, Cicci Bacco, the fisherman, the two godfathers, the monk, the Gypsy, the three wise men, the sellers (butcher, cheese seller, egg seller, fruitseller, ect.). Typical places for the scenario are: the market, the bridge, the oven, the church, the tavern, the river and the well.
Beyond the religious symbols that it recalls, the Presepe is loved by the non catholic Neapolitan families as well because the Presepe is the place where sacred and profane, spirituality and everyday life, pray and irony coexist.
Below: the artisan workshop (bottega) in via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples
Very famous in Naples is the well known Presepi road (via San Gregorio Armeno) that offers a window on the local handicrafts related to the Presepe.
Today big Presepi are regurarly set up in every main church of the state capital of this region and many napolitans still prepare it in the own homes. The construction of the Neapolitan Presepe traditionally begins on the 8th of December: you take out from the storeroom the base from the previous year (a scheleton of just cork or cardboard layed on a wooden tray, without any kind of decoration) and the whole family discusses the possibility of expanding the Presepe. After a quick chat, they decide on the actions to be taken. The walk along San Gregorio Armeno, the Presepe street, becomes then a duty. The setting of a Presepe can last from a few days to the whole Christmas holidays, but it is compulsory to have everything ready the night of the 24th of December.
The Neapolitan Presepe is not only handicraft and folk tradition, but it represents a highly regarded art form.
Below: gulf of Naples
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