Anne's Blog

Christmas is Alive in Assisi

Date: January 5, 2019 - categories: , , , , , , , , , - 6 Comments

Last-minute shopping forays, hours of cooking up a feast, gift-wrapping marathons, and a furious flurry of holiday party preparations:  a few moments of  Christmastime for many.

But in some tiny mountain villages of Umbria, the locals live their Christmas in another way:  by serenelybringing to life the first Christmas. Literally.

San Francesco created the first “living creche” – presepe vivente – in the early 13th-century in the Latium (today) mountain town of Greccio. The tradition lives on in small villages near Assisi –  San Gregorio, Armenzano and Petrignano – where the villagers dress up and act out Bethelehem scenes on December 25, 26 and January 1st and 6th (the Magi arrive!).  The night of December 24th, too, in San Gregorio.

We arrived in Armenzano on January 1st just prior to the arrival of the “Holy Family,” heading to their stall to get dressed:

Soon after, at the village entrance, a Roman soldier flanked by two be-robed elders awaited the arrival of the other crib scene personages.

Day was giving up to night as a procession of Biblical figures filed into the village, no longer Armenzano but Bethlehem now:

Visitors were welcomed to the living crib scene by an elderly bearded Prophet announcing passionately the imminent birth of a King;

And the walled medieval town of Armenzano was transformed into Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth.  The vaulted medieval cellars and alleyways backdropped scenes of basket-makers, a street market, carpenters,  wool-carders,  a blacksmith,  a shoemaker, the dyeing of cloths, weaving and a mill where wheat was being ground into flour.

A little girl helped bake breads in an outdoor oven, another worked at a potter’s wheel near her father….and a few doors down, a young man in a tunic was grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle.

Pino enjoyed an encounter with the Prophet 

…and what a surprise to see Luigi (we’ve known him for years) as one of the Magi!

At the top of the town, Herod bellowed out his fury from the castle.

Another surprise: I hadn’t seen Walter in years and there he was (in all his regality):

Our last stop was at the stall to see the Babe which had infuriated Herod:

A donkey placidly munched hay as he gazed at Gesu Bambino.  

Visiting children offered him fistfuls of hay before they headed on with their parents to see more of the Armenzano presepe vivente wonders.

They’ll remember this Christmastime for years to come.

Click here to read more about the presepe vivente

Read more about Assisi Christmas traditions


  • Carol lundin says:

    Fantastic photos & fascinating article -nothing lke stepping back into the past & Anne brings it all to life!

  • Ken Pittner says:

    Dear Anne: Glad to have shared this towns celebration of Christ’s birth. What a beautiful pageant. You look wonderfully healthy and energy filled. So happy for your good health. Love to you and your family and joy and peace and health for 2019 and more. Ken Pittner

  • Val says:

    Thank you for sharing. What an incredible tradition they are doing well to keep alive. The photos did indeed convey the feeling of stepping back in time.

  • Val, yes, a leap back in time and presented by the “locals” with so much “PASSIONE.”

  • Ken, thanks for your note and si! What an event – come some year to take it in with us!

  • Carol, thanks for your comments on the photos but nothing like the ones YOU take! Grazie mille, though..

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