Christmas is a popular holiday in both Italy, where I live now, and the United Kingdom, where I am from. However, this doesn’t mean that people celebrate it in exactly the same way. One difference I have noticed is the decorations. Although in both countries I have seen a lot of Christmas lights hung on the outside of people’s houses, here in Italy I haven’t seen any wreaths, the circle of holly and pine branches that people hang on their doors in Britain. In Britain, the most important Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree, a pine tree we bring into the house and decorate. This tradition comes from Germany and was adopted by the British in the Victorian era. The Christmas tree is popular in many countries and every morning when I walk to school I pass a giant Christmas tree set up by the town council. However, although most people I know in Italy have a Christmas tree, there is another decoration which is just as important to them.
This decoration is the presepe or nativity scene. Where I live in Calabria, in the south of Italy, it seems that everyone has made one: I have seen them in people’s houses, in churches and at school. They are usually set up on a table and vary in size. They show Baby Jesus in the stable with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and angels. The figures are brightly coloured and can be made of clay, stone, wood or plastic. In the south of Italy, nativity scenes usually also show ordinary people going about their daily lives: a child running after a dog, the baker cooking bread, a woman hanging clothes out to dry. The scene in the stable is part of a whole landscape. This is usually a rocky hillside, with houses and paths. Often people decorate their nativity with real moss, tiny electric lights inside the houses, and a running water feature such as a tiny stream, water mill or fountain.