The birth of a child brings joy all over the world and in every culture. But if that Child is the incarnation of a spiritual mystery, one that has remained a mystery for over two thousand years, then that Child’s birth is truly special, unique, metaphysical. A birth that bears liturgical and ritual meanings, the birth of a divine, unique, sacred, irreplaceable being: the birth of Jesus, the Nativity. A Nativity that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe as a moment endowed with an aesthetic and spiritual aura, an event that took place in a cave or in a hut by a manger: a Holy Infant who came to the world one cold night with his young Mother, his putative father, and with the three Kings coming to pay homage after a long and perilous journey, and a crowd of devoted humble shepherds.
A much-awaited Nativity, of which only the wise men and the scholars who studied the mysteries of the Universe could understand the meaning it would have for humanity. A tender scene that captures our imagination, that has been part of our culture for centuries, and that in the Early Middle Ages became the subject of a symbolic representation set up in the days before Christmas, first inside the churches and then inside people’s homes, as a tender sign of spiritual protection. From that day, the Nativity Scenes – presepe in Italian, from medieval Latin presepium indicating a fenced area by a stable – has become a heartfelt tradition as well as one of the favorite subjects of all European painting, starting with Giotto. Nativity Scenes are therefore an important sign of our identity, whether we are believers or not. Nowadays that representation goes beyond its strictly spiritual and religious meaning and has become a sign of our culture.


And so, in the Terre di Pisa, as in many other parts of Italy and Europe, Nativity Scenes have become an occasion to spread joy and express a heartfelt and deep commitment. Examples of this tradition can be found in Castelfranco di Sotto, an authentic celebration of this Divine Birth, with thirty-three Nativity Scenes placed in different locations around the town all lit up at the same time creating a joyful and traditional celebration. Then there is Guardistallo, the town of one thousand Nativity Scenes, all made by locals and students, using traditional materials such as terracotta, cardboard, and plastic, or more unusual ones such as curlers, bread or stones. The town of Marti welcomes over one hundred Nativity Scenes made by the local community that transform the streets of the ancient village into one large open-air exhibition. Also of note are the Nativity Scenes of Pomarance, San Miniato, and Riparbella. Also very spectacular are the Living Nativity Scenes, with actual performers in costume: this type of Nativity Scene can be enjoyed at Casciana Terme, Lari, Montione, Castelfranco di Sotto, San Miniato Basso, and San Giovanni alla Vena with its beautiful Presepe dell’Angelo, made by local artist Angelo Perini.


And we like to end this rich and exciting list of Nativity Scenes with those set up inside churches, where the spiritual symbolism reaches its apex: the famous Sanctuary of San Romano where a grand Nativity Scene has been set up since 1922 and that since 1995 has been moved outside, first in the garden and then in the cloisters, becoming bigger and more accurate every year and well known all over Tuscany. Also of note is the San Giuseppe artistic Nativity Scene in Pontedera, in the Oratory of San Giuseppe, followed by the Cigoli Nativity Scene, a Palestinian type scene among the most technological in Italy, that over the years has grown to cover a 100 square metre surface, occupying the space available in the charming Santuario della Madre dei Bimbi. Last but not least, the grand Basilica di San Pietro a Grado every year assembles a Nativity Scene with over 200 characters while at the Certosa di Calci, inside the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa there is the animated Nativity Scene, with countless handmade figures creating an atmosphere of joy and devotion. Also in Calci, in the church of Nicosia, there is the traditional Presepe che cresce, a growing Nativity Scene.