Known in English as the "nativity scene", the "presepe" depicts Mary and Joseph in a manger with the Baby Jesus. In Italy this religious custom is something to behold as the Italians have displays which are lovingly created and range from simple to elaborate designs.
More than just a Christmas ritual in Italy, this is an example of the culture of faith in the Catholic Church and their country.
Throughout Italy every home has a presepe which is put in a place of prominence. This is normally set up on the 8th of December with the members of the household all taking part. It is as much a family bonding time as it is a rekindling of faith and devotion.
Following a long standing tradition of commemoration, the presepe is prepared with statues of animals and people but the infant Jesus is only placed in the crib on Christmas Eve.
This Christmas custom is an important part of the holiday season in Italy and there are competitions for the best scenes.
The variety of materials used and representations vary widely. Some people include a setting of the entire area, not just the stable. Some feature villages and townsfolk and show a slice of the life from that era.
The "presepe vivente" or living nativity brings history to life. People dress up as the characters and act out scenes for the public. This production includes the animals of the manger. This theatrical art form began in Greccio 800 years ago and spread throughout Italy and has become an integral part of the remembrance service of the birth of Christ.
The celebrations in the city of Naples are world renown and are a popular place for visitors both domestic and foreign who come to experience a real Neapolitan style Christmas event.
The Via San Gregorio Armeno is a narrow alleyway in the historic center where skilled craftsmen sell their pieces to put into the presepe.
There you can see them sculpting and painting and can purchase classic figures of Joseph, Mary, and the animals.
Now, the artisans have expanded their range of figurines and many vendors include figures of celebrities, politicians, and even football players! Although some households want to keep their presepe the same each year, others opt to include more unusual visitors to the scenes.
Don't think that Christmas is the only time to see the works of the craftsmen on the Via San Gregorio Armeno, the best time to go is during the months of September and October.
With the high tourist season of summer over, everywhere is less crowded. The temperatures are pleasant at around 18ºC (64 ºF) and the Mediterranean is warm and inviting.
As one of the oldest and the third largest city in Italy, Naples offers the traveler a full itinerary of things to do and see during a visit. Whether your interests are historical, culinary, or a relaxing break, book your Neapolitan vacation today and experience the glorious southern coast of Italy.