** This Naples, Italy Christmas Street Features "Presepi" (Nativity Scenes) Artisans (Free Italy Travel Advice)**
This is a slightly longer version of an article that appeared in the
November 2008 issue of Dream of Italy:
I have always maintained a firm policy of staying out of those
year-round Christmas stores; even the one on Route 101 from Los Angeles
to Santa Barbara with the giant inflated Santa Claus flying over it was
no temptation for me.
This month, however, I went to the ultimate Christmas store, of sorts,
San Gregorio Armeno in Naples.
This narrow street in the center of the city (and near the 16th-century
Benedictine cloister of the same name) is lined with shops overflowing
with Christmas decorations. My change of heart came about
when I read an article about Neapolitan artists who are making
contemporary political figures for traditional Italian nativity
scenes. Only the idea of Nativity composed of Barack Obama, Hillary
Clinton and Italian President
Berlusconi as the "ThreeWise
Men” could have gotten me to break my rules!
Historically, Italian nativity scenes varied greatly from region to
region. The tradition in Naples – where in many
homes the presipio
(nativity scene) is still more important than the Christmas tree
– was to create a scene made up many different figures. In
addition to the traditional elements from the Bible, Neapolitan
nativities feature representations of everyday people going about their
daily lives – cooking meals, baking bread, even working in a
Today, a number of artists continue these centuries-old traditions, but
it is also possible to find contemporary twists on these old
crafts. Genny Di Virgilio
in the shop of Rosario e Gennaro Di
Virgilio specializes in
creating traditional nativity figures from terracotta.
These days, however, this young artist may be better known for his
figures of Obama, Clinton, Berlusconi and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
Business has been quite brisk this fall; while I was in his shop, he
was, in fact, working on a new “batch” of Obama
figures (I bought four). He sells the smaller Obama figures
for 30 euros but has larger figures of all the big names in the news
Obama) which sell for 200
A few doors up the street, the craftsmen of another traditional shop, Giuseppe e Marco Ferrigno,
are also producing political figures. I think my favorite sight at this
shop was the scene with the figures of Berlusconi, Luciano Pavarotti and
a number of soccer players placed immediately next to a lovely large
figure of the Madonna rocking an empty crib.
As I was taking all this in, I found myself eavesdropping on three
Italians who had stopped to look at this display. Since they had
suitcases, I assumed they were not from Naples, and they seemed as
fascinated as I was with the figures. As I was straining to
understand their conversation, one of them pointed to the Obama figure
and aid, in perfect English “Yes, we
I went home from my trip with two bags bulging from my
purchases. In addition to my Obama and Berlusconi figures (I
decided my third Wise Man would be a traditional one), I bought some
small animal figures and a manger complete with the Babe.
Not wanting the religious emphasis to completely take over my house,
however, I also bought several of the secular items including a
(the witch of the Epiphany) who hangs from a swing and laughs somewhat
demonically when I clap my hands. In fact, there was an
incredible assortment of these motion-sensor decorations and you could
hear the shop owners' hands clapping as I walked up and down
the street – along with tinny music and the “Ho,
Ho, Ho's” from the Santa Claus figures.
While I am not given to rushing the Christmas season, I have to admit
that it was hard to refrain from setting up my decorations as soon as I
returned to my apartment in Rome. I think Mr. Obama and Mr. Berlusconi
will feel quite at home here. I wonder who might be joining the
nativity next year.
Rosario e Gennaro Di
Via San Gregorio Armeno, 18/19/20
(39) 081 5524064