Thursday, December 07, 2006


In the lovely church of Santa Maria di Betlemme in Modica Bassa there is an exquisite terracotta presepe [crib] made in 1882. It has 66 statuettes and the onlookers at the nativity scene are depicted as Sicilian countrymen and women. It is an absolutely stunning sight. I went down to look at it for the first time in many years this week and the craftsmanship took my breath away, as it did the first time I saw it.

You will see a crib in nearly every Sicilian home at this time of year and some of the figurines will be family heirlooms. The custom of filling the crib with statuettes dressed in Sicilian costume continues and I think this must make it easier for children to identify with the characters. One friend, though, is buying one or two figurines for her five-year-old every week and, having been told that this week they will buy the "baby Jesus", little Francesca has got it into her head that her parents can buy her a baby brother at the same time! At least children here will remember what the Christmas story is really about.

Cribs also appear in shop windows, as in the second photo.


Liz Hinds said...

The 1882 crib scene is beautiful. It's a good diea dressing the characters in Sicilian dress to make it more real and relevant.

I hope Francesca's not too disappointed!

James Higham said...

A friend today, when I explained about your site,where you are and the foodstuffs, said that Sicily was very poor. I always understood it was very beautiful. Maybe we're talking about different things.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Liz. I think they're trying to distract Francesca!
Buongiorno, James. I thought Sicily was poor before I first came here in 1992, too. Of course, poverty exists and you see beggars occasionally, but not as often as you see them in the UK these days. The reality is that Sicily is rich in natural resources and imports hardly anything, foodwise. One of the main differnces from the UK is that few people have mortgages: nearly everyone has some land left to them by their family and they build on that. Most people I know - professionals, admittedly - have 2 or even 3 houses and that's quite hard for me to take in, given how most of us struggle in Britain to keep one. When I first brought students over on an exchange visit, the first thing they remarked on was the amount of open countryside that you see, with no buildings in sight. Another difference is that, as all over Italy, everybody eats well, because they eat and use what is available. I think the only way to get to grips with the many contrasts that make up Sicily is to come and experienvce it. Part of my purpose on this site is to try to show people that it is very different to how they might imagine it. Thank you for telling your friend about my site and thank you for your always interesting comments.!

Anonymous said...

The nativity looks very beautiful, in a church near to my village, there is always a very special Xmas Eve spontaneous nativity when children dress up in costumes and react the story, with a newborn baby from the village as Jesus, and its parents as Mary and Joseph. There have even been animals and straw in the belfry around the crib to make it more authentic.

I enjoyed reading your reflections on Sicily too.

Ballpoint Wren said...

What a beautiful nativity scene. We have one, too, only it's made out of cloth; handmade by my sister-in-law.

Sadly, our dog ate the baby Jesus. (The poodle did it before he died, not Mojo.) Now we use a Lego man for the baby Jesus.

Maria said...

I have inherited my Mother's. I remember when I was a kid how I was always sneaking baby Jesus into the crib. My Mom wouldn't allow it till Christmas Eve when we came home from Midnight Mass. Thank you for reminding me... ~M

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Bonnie. Sorry the dog ate baby Jesus! But, as my lovely Dad would have said, "he thought it was there for him to eat!" Buona sera, M. That's a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing it.


View My Stats