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The Sicilian "Christmas Crib"

presepe di cera colorata (primi del ‘700), opera di Giovanni Rosselli. Museo di Messina
presepe di corallo (part.). Museo Pepoli, Trapani
natività in ceramica. Chiesa di Militello Val di Catania

The "crib" is a typical Christmas image. It was diffused in Italy since the XIV century thanks to the Counter reformation that intensified the cult of Our Lady. It was, above all, an object of cult inside the churches and was diffused in Sicily since the XV century. But it was only since the XVI century that it was possible to speak of a real "crib" consisting of a cave with trees and wood all around ii, filled with a certain number of characters. This figurative culture has already been expressed by the illuminated codes, the mosaics, the printing painting on the walls or on glass and, above all, marble bass-relieves. In the XVII century the "crib" diffused among court and aristocracy the characters in the "crib", the faces, the clothes and the attitudes of the popular Sicilian world of that period. They were countrymen, craftsmen, shepherds, hunters and fishermen. Finally, in 1700, the family "crib" prevailed and all figures were put inside a glass show-case called "Scaffarata". At the beginning of 1800 the "crib" became more popular because it was possible to buy figures at a low price. It was due to the evolution of making figures and, in general to economical and cultural changes in Sicily.
Today the "crib" is still very important because it represents a fragment of past life. For this reason “to make the crib”, every year, is not only a domestic ritual, but is like creating a scene from when Jesus Christ was born.


The kings and the emperors, to distinguish themselves from the knights and (from) the soldiers, wore a mantle and a crown or they had a garland of laurel on their shield. The protagonists spoke with particular heroic slang, that wasn't neither Italian nor Sicilian; it made use of resonant words and phrases, often wreck of verses, derived from literary sources and arranged for Sicilian syntax. Puppet theatre decline coincided with the beginning of the silent cinema and the television, so the "opera dei pupi" persists as a spectacle for the tourists' curiosity. Nevertheless only in the last years, the local public, especially the young people and the students, shows interest in this ancient artistic form; it is always and however a fascinating and precious cultural patrimony to safeguard.