Sicilian Traditions

Christmas representations: Etna and Taormina

Christmas is maybe the most wonderful time of the year; the cheerful and joyful atmosphere of these weeks of December is undeniably contagious: the streets fill up with familiar melodies and colorful lights and every house is decorated with a shining Christmas tree and wreaths on the doors. 

A traditional local symbol is the Presepe, the Nativity scene which is usually set in a cave and represents Mary and Joseph, the infant Jesus in a manger and the ox and the donkey on either side to keep him warm. The Holy Family is surrounded characters such as the Three Kings and the shepherds who came to salute the newborn. 

Whether big or small, the Presepe is one of the most ancient symbols of the Christian tradition which is commonly found in households and churches, as well as in several Italian piazzas. Many are the living nativity scenes, where locals take an active part in the nativity exhibition — this is particularly common in small villages, such as those of the Etnean area: some instances are Zafferana Etnea and Linguaglossa, where Christmas markets are set up as well (in Linguaglossa, the Percorso EtNatale along the village streets will be soon inaugurated).  In the Taormina district (Trappitello and Mazzeo), there will be a living Nativity Scene, not to mention the Presepe which is permanently set in the small church of Sant’Antonio Abate along with the concerts and events which will be organized during the Christmas celebrations. 

Here a few of the most particular Presepi of the area: 

In Acireale, the Church of Santa Maria della Neve holds in the lavic rock cave within its walls an 18th-century Presepe made up of 34 life-size characters of wood and wax, wearing the traditional gowns of that time, humble for modest people and richer and more sophisticated for the Three Kings. Since the last restoration made in the 80s, the decision has been taken not to disassemble the scene to avoid causing any damage to the already fragile wax faces of the characters; during Christmas time, liturgical services are held in the cave in order to give it a unique and evocative atmosphere. 

The Presepe dei Nebrodi is another handcrafted nativity scene which is set up every year in Maniace and is in the itinerary of the most beautiful and original Presepi in Sicily: 45 pieces made of terracotta and fabric representing the birth of Jesus in a rural setup on the Nebrodi, with representations of ancient professions. It will possible to see the Presepe at the Pro Loco in Maniace from December 7th, 2019 to February 2nd, 2020.

In the nearby town of Bronte, there is a permanent exhibition of more than 300 handcrafted Presepi coming from all over the world, curated by a local cultural association. The exhibition is part of an architectural and historical itinerary which includes, among others, the Castle of Nelson, the local art gallery and the Real Collegio Capizzi, where the Borbonic library is. 

Finally, in Castiglione di Sicilia, the impressive  Byzantine Cuba of Santa Domenica is the frame of an exhibition of Presepi until January 6th, 2020. This building is an ancient rural chapel situated in this enchanting medieval borgo not too far from the Alcantara river. The visit of Castiglione di Sicilia is included in our Wineries Tour, thought to disclose the secrets of the production of the Etna wine and of its unique flavors.

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