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Christmas markets showcase Italian presepe, or nativity scenes

Presepe figurines, home décor, and construction materials are available at many Christmas markets. At the Piazza Navona in Rome, stalls lining the square between the great fountains attest to the vitality of the presepe as a Christmas practice. You can purchase figurines of the holy family, magi, shepherds, and accompanying animals, rolled-up cork for building houses and topography, and a vast array of furnishings — tiny pots and pans for the kitchen, terracotta eggplants and oranges — indeed, anything you might want for your nativity dollhouse. Some stalls specialize in “electromechanical” objects that move: sheep that raise and lower their heads, woodchoppers that raise and lower their axes. At lunch hour, you’re likely to find businessmen elbowing their way to the front of the line to buy new miniature eggplants for the family presepe’s vegetable basket.

Via San Gregorio Armeno

For the serious presepe enthusiast, San Gregorio Armeno, a street in the heart of old Naples, beckons with its dozens of workshops, many of which have been in operation for centuries. Here you can find presepe figurines in all sizes and for all wallets — and across the human spectrum, including popular and contemporary figures such as Pope Francis and soccer star Mario Balotelli. In most shops, the angels hang from ceiling wires, their pastel dresses billowing. Carlo, from Rome, likes to make an annual pilgrimage to San Gregorio Armeno to add a new figurine or landscape feature to his presepe. The workshops on San Gregorio Armeno represent an artisanal tradition that keeps the presepe uniquely tied to Italian ritual practices.

Photography by Margot Balboni, Videography by Sarah Stanbury
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