Christmas days are very important in Sicily, there are several traditions and customs in Italy during Christmas. Of course, the use of xmas trees is very common and certain towns and villages are decorated with Christmas lights, often a santa's village for children is prepared in the main square. Walking along the streets, you can listen to christmas songs (as, e.g, the famous Wham's "last Christmas") or visit a Christmas market, where you can buy local handmade products. But one of the most popular traditions in Italy is the representation of the nativity scene, admired both by local people and tourists, who come to Sicily to spend their Christmas holidays.
In Sicily, families adorn their houses and apartments with traditional Christmas decorations such as christmas trees and Christmas lights and each family creates its manger scene. Christmas cribs are usually made in several and original materials and they are often handmade. The tradition in Italy of nativity scene goes back to the Middle Age and it was introduced by Saint Francis di Assisi, who in 1223 set in a small town the first representation of the birth of Jesus. In Sicily, the tradition of Christmas cribs became common thanks to the Jesuits.
Nativity scene in Sicily is so important that we have museums and exhibitions, where some of the most ancient or original nativity sets are collected. In the following lines you will discover some places in which the nativity scene is set:
- homemade nativity scenes in Caltagirone (CT): this small town is very popular thanks to the production of painted ceramic objects, but it is also known as the "town of 100 Christmas cribs"; indeed, the nativity scene tradition in Caltagirone goes back to the 16th century, when they started the production of small ceramic statues to set up small manger scenes. Nowadays you can admire a great collection of them exposed in the museum of traditional cribs of Caltagirone.
- XIV Edition of the Exhibition of nativity scenes in Messina: during christmas period in the archepiscopal palace, from the 21th of December to the 6th of January, you can visit for free an exhibit of several Christmas cribs, made in different materials. Moreover, a beautiful and big nativity scene is set behind the Cathedral of Messina (you can admire it in the photo of this article).
Sicilian villages in which you can find a living nativity scene:
Other important tradition in Italy and especially in Sicily, linked with the nativity scene is the representation of living nativity scenes. They usually consist of a representation of the birth of Jesus The living nativity scene is often set in an ancient village, that recalls the magic atmosphere of the old Bethlehem, the same of the period of the birth of Jesus Christ. This kind of Christmas crib is a very widespread tradition in Italy and in Sicily, we have very popular examples of these living nativity scenes:
- nativity scene in custonaci (TP): custonaci is a small rural village, known for the presence of karstic caves, inhabited in the prehistoric age. During Christmas period, in one of these beautiful caves, it is set a nativity scene performed by the local people.
- nativity scene in castanea (ME): Castanea is a village situated on the hills of Messina, and it is famous to be the set of one of the most popular and beautiful living nativity scene here in Sicily. The inhabitants of the village collaborate together to reproduce every year the atmosphere of Bethlehem with all its features.
- nativity scene in gangi (PA): Gangi is located near Palermo, the capital city of the island of Sicily, and it has been awarded in 2014 as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy, a competition that is organised every year. On christmas time the heart of the village, characterised by narrow streets and so many stairs, is transformed into a big nativity scene by the locals, who decorate every detail and use the costumes of the time when Jesus Christ was born. They love to perform the daily routines of the birth city of our Redentor and the ancient jobs that the people did.
- nativity scene in ispica (RG): in Ispica, a village in the southeastern part of Sicily, a nativity scene is recreated on an itinerary connecting the historical centre to the famous location of "Cava d'Ispica", a very impressive archaeological site where the nativity scene is set. So many visitors every year enjoy the beautiful view of a place in which faith and nature are perfectly combined together.
These are some locations in which you can visit a suggestive nativity scene in Sicily, so if you are planning to spend your Christmas holidays here, don't miss them!
The entire staff of Discover Messina is glad to wish a Happy Christmas to you and your families! Keep following our blog to discover in the next weeks other about the sicilian food that we prepare during our Christmas holidays!
In collaboration with Tania Scipilliti