Nine quirky Christmas nativity scenes you can see in Italy

Nativity scenes appear in homes, churches and public buildings across the country in December, each one a little different. But while they may be a staple of the Christmas season, there's nothing traditional about these quirky examples...

Nine quirky Christmas nativity scenes you can see in Italy
Photo: Christopher Brown/Flickr

1. The world's largest

Let's start with the world's largest nativity, in Cinque Terre. Each year, the picturesque town of Manarola in the Liguria tourist spot is illuminated with over 15,000 lights – a tradition which began back in 1961 with a single cross. It's not only an incredible sight but is also eco-friendly, made entirely of recycled materials.

2. The Vatican's life-size effort

The scene in Rome's Piazza San Pietro is probably the most famous. This year, the traditional nativity scene is accompanied by the cross and debris from Norcia's destroyed basilica, in a tribute to the victims of the earthquakes in central Italy. As per tradition, the baby Jesus will be added to the scene by the pope himself on Christmas Eve.

3. Pasta

It's Italy. Of course someone made a pasta presepe. This one can be seen at Rome's annual 100 presepi exhibition, displaying nativities of all materials and sizes from around the world.


A photo posted by Elena Toni (@ele_nina1103) on Dec 13, 2016 at 3:45am PST

4. A modern version

This version imagines how Jesus' birth might have been different had it happened in 2016 – selfie sticks and all.


A photo posted by ( on Dec 13, 2016 at 1:55am PST

5. On the water

The 'floating nativities' of port town Cesenatico are the only ones of their kind in the world. The boats display around 50 life-size statues throughout December, portraying a scene typical of the fishing village. Each year a new statue is added, and at night, lights bring the whole scene to life.

6. Nutella

This improvised version may be less elaborate than the others, but it's the most delicious on the list.


A photo posted by Pasquale Sabatino (@pasqualesab72) on Dec 19, 2016 at 9:45pm PST

7. On the road

We love this brightly coloured car nativity, spotted in Reggio Calabria in the south of the country.


A photo posted by Yallers Calabria (@yallerscalabria) on Dec 20, 2016 at 12:11am PST

8. Live

You might do a double take when you first see one of Italy's presepi viventi – not only are they life-size, but they are made up of real people, each acting out a character in the rural scene. There are several living nativities across the country, but this one in Matera is one of the most famous and most beautiful. Walking through a 5km route to the town centre, visitors pass shepherds and artisans who will direct them to the actual crib.

9. Sand

In Jesolo near Venice, a nativity scene made entirely of sand is inaugurated each year. This year, the scene honours the many refugees who make the journey to Italy each year, seeking shelter like the holy family.

Photo: christopher_brown/Flickr

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Five Italian New Year traditions to bring luck for 2024

Celebrating San Silvestro in Italy? There are a few customs to follow to make sure you start 2024 with as much good fortune as possible.

Five Italian New Year traditions to bring luck for 2024

Eating lentils

At many an Italian New Years Eve party, small dishes of lentils are handed out to guests just before the countdown.

Lentils, or lenticchie, are believed to bring good luck, as they’re said to represent small coins and therefore bring wealth and prosperity in the year ahead.

The tradition of eating them at New Year – shortly after midnight – is said to date back to Ancient Rome. The more you eat, the luckier you’ll be in the coming year.

Wearing red underwear

If you’re hoping for an Italian romance, the only way to make sure Cupid shoots an arrow in your direction during 2024 is to deck yourself out in red underwear on New Year’s Eve. 

Some say that the charm only works if the undies are a gift, while others firmly believe you have to give them away before daybreak.

Either way, the majority of Italians firmly believe that the custom is linked to fertility or good luck in your sexual endeavours (60 percent agree with this statement, at least according to a survey carried out by drinks company San Pellegrino).

More generally, red underwear will apparently help to fend off evil spirits and negativity, bringing you happiness in the coming year: the colour red has been used for centuries by superstitious Italians to ward off disaster.

Throwing things out of the window

Watch out for falling objects – in some southern parts of the country, it’s traditional to throw possessions, particularly crockery, out of your window to show that you are ready for a new start in the new year.

As national treasure Totò says in New Year’s Eve comedy The Passionate Thief:

– San Silvestro, roba vecchia, defenestro!
– On New Year’s Eve, out of the window old stuff must leave!

If you’d rather that new start didn’t involve arguments with the neighbours about why you threw a plate at their head in the middle of the night, an alternative tradition is crashing pots and pans together at your front door, to frighten away evil spirits (see below).

People set off firecrackers by the Colosseum. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Making noise

One thing we can guarantee is that, unless you’re in the middle of the deepest Italian countryside, New Year’s Eve is going to be a noisy affair. And the further south you get, the more incredible the noise levels.

Fireworks, music, the beeping of horns, and perhaps a few smashing plates all add to the cacophony in the streets of towns and cities as the clock strikes midnight. Fireworks in particular are likely to be going off all evening ahead of the start of the new year, and even during the day.

Few people are likely to be thinking about the festivities in these terms nowadays, but if you ask an older Italian you might be told that, according to superstition, demons and evil spirits don’t like loud noises, so all this ensures they’ve been well and truly scared off before the new year begins. 

Making a racket at your front door in particular is to be encouraged, as this deters evil spirits from entering the house along with the new year.

A swim in the sea (or the River Tiber)

If you still have any energy left the next morning, one surefire way to zap your Prosecco hangover is with a freezing-cold dip in the sea.

Along Italy’s warmer southern coasts, and occasionally further north, you’ll see groups of hardy swimmers braving the water early on the morning of January 1st in a longstanding tradition that’s said to bring health and prosperity in the new year (or at least a clear head on the first day of it).

If you’re in Rome, you could instead join in with the more questionable tradition of jumping into the River Tiber on New Year’s Day, which has been increasingly popular since it began in 1946.