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Away With the Manger


Every holiday season, Italians bring up a debate with all the flavor of a roast chestnut found under the couch around Easter: which is better, the Christmas tree or a nativity scene?
Most people here have both. That doesn’t stop enterprising pollsters and journalists from bringing it up again. And again.
This year there is a new element: department store chain La Rinascente decided not to stock figurines of the holy family in its holiday decor section.

Coming from a dual-decoration household myself, it seems kind of a moot point. It’s not that people don’t like the nativity scene, it’s just that the crèche does not lend itself much to Christmas capitalism.
Think about it. Many people lovingly shape pastoral hills out of papier-mâché, then place the stall, add Mary and Joseph (baby Jesus makes his appearance on Christmas day), plus maybe a few barnyard animals. That’s really it. Sure, you can have your three kings and entire villages in the background if you wish. Most times, though, simplicity is what you’re going for.
There’s a whole neighborhood in Naples where new figurines are created every year (2006 notables include Golden Ball winner Fabio Cannavaro, though doesn’t render him justice at all), but most people tend to leave it the way it is. Until one of the figures breaks when you’re wrapping it in tissue during a post-holiday bicker session, you’re pretty much set.
Christmas trees, by definition, need a lot of bling. There’s a lot of buying involved to cover all that pine and if you’re lucky, maybe one of those gingerbread men the kids lovingly misformed then covered in shellac will finally disintegrate and allow you to get something new. And tree trimmings go in and out of fashion, and consequently on sale in January, but the holy family remains the same.
On a recent DIY mission (no life-changing air fresheners this time), I noted the decorations on hand. There were about four aisles of tinsel, globes, moving Santas and miscellany and only one of stuff for nativity scenes. Different sizes of Joseph and Mary figures (larger ones in ceramic check in at 45 euro) plus extras like sheep (a plastic flock of four cost 3.90) and a few spectacular extras like an working mill scene and a moving carpenter.
One of the reasons that the nativity scene will stay on the scene is that kids like them: the doll-like aspect is more interesting to them than decor favored by adults. If the parents take them to church, they also see a grander one there, plus there are live nativity scenes or especially elaborate ones in a lot of Italian towns.
It’s unlikely that manger scenes will really go away in a Catholic country any time soon. Italians like them so much, they even put them in sex shops. (Italian only)

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 7:59 AM | Permalink

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