Italian Christmas Traditions: Crib and Panettone

Christmas crib: an Italian tradition
Christmas crib: an Italian tradition

The Christmas Crib , staging the nativity scene, however small (fits in a hand) or large (human size), is a very fundamental part of the Italian Christmas. As important are the Christmas meals, which cannot happen without Panettone, the Italian traditional Christmas cake.

It is in 1223 that St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order in the 13th century, has created the first staging of the Nativity with the setting up of the “Christmas Crib” (in Italian “Presepio”) to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with the Holy Family and the Child Jesus in the manger, inside a barn or a cave. Gradually, the on looking visitors (shepherds, angels, Magi Kings) and animals (ox, donkey, sheep and camels) were added and surrounded the Child Jesus in his trough, its cradle or on straw. All cities and churches of Italy compete to create the most beautiful crib, the most suggestive, the most realistic and the most original, with characters in wood, wax, cardboard, earthenware and even glass. Some cribs are animated, The Neapolitan cribs are particularly known and respect stringent traditional setting up criteria! Many families also have also their own crib at home which comes out of the cupboards this time of the year.

Christmas market in Greve in Chianti
Christmas market in Greve in Chianti

But Christmas is also a family gathering, the occasion to have a delicious meal, always including traditional Italian Christmas cakes amongst which the most famous is “Panettone”, a brioche stuffed with raisins, candied fruits and citrus zest, eaten for breakfast or, after the meal, with sweet wine.
Traditions are essential and Christmas traditions are still very strong in Italy, with the Crib and the “Panettone”!

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