Nativity Scenes in Venice … tiny gardens brightening up dark churches in winter

Nativity Scene at the church of San Giacomo di Rialto Santa Maria Zobeningo). They tell about life, reality and dreams … and take Venetians back to their roots … that’s the special meaning behind Nativity Scenes that you see in the Venetian homes and churches, practically everywhere … even in pastry stores. I publish this article in time for January 6, which is the REAL Christmas Festivity day, the ancient, traditional one celebrated in Venice.

It’s the day when you should make sure to take a closer look at the Torre dell’Orologio (Bell Tower) in Piazza San Marco … The Piazza with the outside tables of Caffé Lavena, and the Torre dell’Orologio which plays a major part in Venice on January 6, dedicated to the the Re Magi – Wise Men – visiting the presepio (Nativity Scene).

On the other hand, this is the time when Befana visits Venetian homes and brings little presents to children (also to adults, thanks to our pastry stores). Children in Venice hang up stockings on the evening of January 5 – much like is done with Santa Clause in other countries – and in the morning of January 6, these stockings are filled with little presents, usually sweets – like il carbone della Befana with Befana and the Roghi – wood fires built of cataste di legna in the Veneziano (Province of Venice) to be able to tell the future from the direction the smoke takes …

Christmas at the church of San Salvador Nativity scenes are an important piece of reminscence of the past in the campagna veneta – the Venetian countryside, as the mainland bordering the lagoon around Venice is referred to by Venetians … and reflect the sageness of life in the country, plus the forgotten knowledge and mores of those days (there is, though, a calendar called Cronaca Barbanera reflecting and collecting this ancient knowledge).

Last year I came across a story published in the Gente Veneta Magazine, on how children in the Veneto used connect to Nativity scenes … told in a book “Ricominciamo da Gesù” by Gianni Ferraresi, published by Marcianum Press. Excerpt from the Book on Nativity Scenes Creating and childhood memories in the Veneto by Gianni Ferraresi In the book you can read how Venetians adore creating their presepi, they love creating landscapes, and they start doing that well ahead of Christmas.

Children were gently led by parents in the discovery of life – so my grandmother told me, to get creative and make up the presepi with what was available. The children who were allowed to create the Nativity Scene were actually proud to do so. < Venetian children these days (me too, when I was a child) get Christmas books to learn about the history of presepi, and usually parents buy them at Libreria Studium next to the Piazza.

The bookshop offers do-it-yourself-templates of Nativity Scenes and lots of colorful magical books … enlarging the horizon of children and adults alike as you can train and express yourselves in setting a stage .. I was exceptionally allowed to take pictures of the interior at the Church of San Salvador, near Rialto.

So Venetians, like the people in other regions in Italy, reflect their everyday environment, homes and essentials of daily life into a miniature edition – their presepi. Though, compared to Nativity Scenes from Naples, Venetians include more elements of the original setting and nature in Bethlehem. Neapolitan cribs include every detail of daily life in Naples in a fantastic, artistic composition.

In many Venetian churches, this adorazione dei Re Magi (adoration) is expressed by paintings, like the one shown in the picture above in the Church of San Zaccaria, which is just round the corner from my home. It’s January 6 that you shouldn’t miss in Venice, it’s not just because of the Befana tradition, the sweet coal she brings, but it’s a special greeting  – adoration of the Madonna e Bambino by the Re Magi that is seen on this day in Venice, at the Torre dell’Orologio.

Here is a video to show you the spectacle. By the way, you can visit the Torre dell’Orologio, and can even reach the platform where the two mori striking the clock are located. During your visit to the Bell Tower, you will be shown these four figures (angel and the three Re Magi) as they wait for their appearance, which taks place just twice a year – on January 6 and on 15 August.

At home, January 6 is another morning traditionally begun with eating Pinsa veneta for breakfast – we also do that on 24 December. Our pinsa is a sweet polenta cake filled with dried fruit.

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