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Nativity Scenes were born in Italy
St. Francis of Assisi created the first “Nativity Scene” in 1223 in order to explain the origin of Christ. It was a living Nativity Scene in a cave in Greccio, near Asssisi, where still today it is relived on the eve of Christmas, with a procession from Greccio to Assisi, a memorable event. From that moment Nativity Scenes spread everywhere in the Christian world.
Slowly they transformed from living scenes into statues in the 14th Century and spread as a tradition throughout Europe, especially Italy where nearly every Italian home has one.
By the 1500s, the Neapolitan sculptors became masters of mixed media, creating nativity scenes and dramatic groupings of saints and angels crafted of wood, terracotta, stone, and a most distinctive medium—papier-mâché and eventually these Christmas cribs gradually made their way into private families.
The Neapolitan love of theatre married perfectly with the development of papier-mâché nativity scenes. Elaborate landscape and architectural settings allowed the Neapolitan theatrical imagination to run wild. Today these Nativity Scenes are a mixture of the ancient and the current theatre, with street scenes and daily life activities, butchers, artisans, shepherds, eating pizza, doing daily chores, political figures and the Holy Family all in one viewing, like a little theatre of life with the manger being the First Act of this play.
One can find living Nativity scenes everywhere, small hilltop towns, main squares, churches, Christmas bazaars, and even homes and live Nativity Scenes are present during the week all over Italy.
San Gregorio Armeno Christmas Alley, Naples
The heart of making Nativity scenes is in Naples and has been since the 14th Century, but with the 18th century it also became the center of production. Museums have Master pieces on display. They are all telling a story of life, elaborate and complete with current leading figures in politics, sports, the arts, and controversies of the times.