The presepe is one of the most traditional symbols of the season, its history rooted deeply in that of Italian culture. Its creation is a ritual so entrenched in people’s habits that many can’t renounce to it, even in today’s day and age, when celebrations have become more modern.
A presepe is a scene of the stable where Jesus was born, complete with figurines to represent Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the Wise Men (to be added on the 6th of January), shepherds and animals. Depending on the size, the scene may include buildings for an entire village. Many households around the country will have their own, unique presepe. Most towns will also come together to build a presepe on a larger scale for everyone to see.
The "Presepe a grandezza naturale" is the one that can be found in Stintino. Every year the community comes together to assemble the life size figures and buildings. A stroll through the town at this time of year can be rather intriguing, as you'll find a mirage of characters embedded in to the town's atmosphere, as if they were really real.
The country is so attached to this tradition, sometimes it even manages to argue about its name: debates about the correct word to use, presepe or presepio, have been going on since it can be remembered. Truth is, both forms are correct because they come from Latin, which accepted both praesepium and praesepe, although presepe is probably the most used today.
While some may see the presepe simply as a tradition, it is actually very close to a fully developed form of art. Proof of its importance in Italy can be seen in the numerous markets and exhibitions set up for it, some coming alive with real people impersonating the main characters of the scene.
Traditionally Italians take out their presepe from its boxes on December 8th. Some people start to build it on that day, others just modify an existing set and others still simply spray a bit of artificial snow and musk for decoration. No matter the size and the ornaments choosen, you’ll find a presepe in the home of almost all Italian Catholics.