Ten Christmas nativity scenes you’ll only see in Italy

Ten Christmas nativity scenes you'll only see in Italy
Crib figures on sale n Naples. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP
Nativity scenes appear in homes, churches and public buildings across the country in December, each one a little different. But while they may be a staple of the Christmas season, there's nothing traditional about these quirky examples...

1. The world's largest

Let's start with the world's largest nativity, in Cinque Terre. Each year, the picturesque town of Manarola in the Liguria tourist spot is illuminated with over 15,000 lights – a tradition which began back in 1961 with a single cross. It's not only an incredible sight but is also eco-friendly, made entirely of recycled materials.

Photo: Miriam Rossignoli/Flickr

2. The Vatican's tech-savvy effort

While the scene in Rome's Piazza San Pietro may look as classic as ever, this year the Vatican's nativity includes a QR code that takes visitors to a video about the Christmas story. There's even a special WiFi hotspot so visitors don't have to use up their data. Some things never change, though: as per tradition, the baby Jesus will be added to the scene by the pope himself on Christmas Eve.


A post shared by @barbi.giangiu on Dec 9, 2017 at 11:47pm PST

3. A used-car nativity

Hey, why not. This one can be seen at Rome's annual 100 Presepi exhibition, displaying nativities of all materials and sizes from around the world.

4. An edible version

You definitely shouldn't tuck into the nativity scene in Olmedo, Sardinia – but you could. The elaborate figures on display in the church of Nostra Signore di Talia are made entirely of bread. 

5. On the water…

The “floating nativities” of port town Cesenatico are the only ones of their kind in the world. The boats display around 50 life-size statues throughout December, portraying a scene typical of the fishing village. Each year a new statue is added, and at night, lights bring the whole scene to life.


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6. … and under it

Head to Laveno-Mombello on Lombardy's Lago Maggiore for a look at a sunken nativity scene. The sight of the holy family – plus some seashells and palm trees – submerged in the waters of the lake makes for a surprisingly, but undeniably scenic, view.


A post shared by Cesare Colombo (@cesare.co) on Dec 6, 2017 at 10:33am PST

7. Neapolitan style

No one does nativities quite like Naples. Head to the city's “Christmas Alley“, via San Gregorio Armeno, for a glimpse into the workshops that turn out many of the crib figures displayed all over Italy. Among the usual characters, look out for fishmongers, butchers, pizza makers and other figures that have made their way into Neapolitan Christmas tradition – not to mention the pop stars and politicians that craftsmen slip in there too.

Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

8. Living nativities

You might do a double take when you first see one of Italy's presepi viventi – they are made up of real people, each acting out a character in the rural scene. There are several living nativities across the country, but this one in Matera is one of the most famous and most beautiful. Walking through a 5km route to the town centre, visitors pass shepherds and artisans who will direct them to the actual crib.

Photo: mitopoietico/Flickr

9. Made of sand

In Jesolo near Venice, a nativity scene made entirely of sand – some 1,500 tonnes of it – is inaugurated each year. This year, the scene is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Photo: christopher_brown/Flickr

10. In a Fiat Panda

So this nativity scene, rigged up in the back of an old Fiat Panda, might not be Italy's classiest – but to judge by the thousands of likes the photo has had on Facebook, it's one of the most popular. Head to Macomer in Sardinia to see if you can spot it for yourself.

A version of this article was first published in December 2016.