The Nativity of San Gregorio Armeno, emotions and traditions

Christmas always brings to my mind many things: lights, snow, gifts, family, huge dinners and… Christmas open markets.
Christmas open markets which lights up cities and smiles everywhere in the world, each one with its tradition sometimes even centuries old… and every year I dream of going to the Christmas open markets of northern Italy or northern Europe: with its cold, snow, and that special tradition which distinguish them.
It’s a dream I have, but I like the “Christmas feeling” of every city, I emotion myself just thinking how cities like London or New York could be in this period.

…And there is a place in particular which I love to go see each year.
I went there for the first time three years ago, in a cold January afternoon (just before Epiphany, when the expo ends), and even if Christmas was passed, it was still present in those streets, or even yet to arrive. Trying to describe
San Gregorio Armeno it’s really difficult, the multitude of small and big shops, stands, stalls crowding those ancient streets, it’s as homogeneous as it is different.

San Gregorio Armeno - strade

Each workshops has its own speciality, its way to “do” Nativity Scene: some shows mechanical figures, some figures one metre high, some prefer to reproduce modern characters.
Nativity Scene tradition, in Naples, starts from this, from the competition which started in the 18th century between wealthy families, of whom owned the most beautiful Nativity Scene, and usually whole rooms were reserved to them. Also nowadays is more or less the same way, but the competition is between shops, and it’s not as fierce and definitely more humane.
Eduardo de Filippo (a very important Neapolitan playwright, actor, director, poet and lifetime senator) taught in his comedy “Christmas at Cupiello’s”, saying to someone in Naples “I don’t like Nativity Scenes” it’s an unforgivable insult.

My first visit to San Gregorio Armeno has been touching. There still was a feeling of holiday, Christmas, and cold. The artisans/shopkeepers stood beside their creations, shown outside the shop, invited us in, to show us their crafts, with pride sparkling in their eyes. This is a thing I love about Naples: cordiality and simplicity of its people, which can make you feel as a king.
The statues were made with a striking perfection, some have real custom-cut clothes, houses and shops were recreated with all the little tools and materials as if it were really going to start their work activities any minute.

San Gregorio Armeno - presepi

The thing which charmed me the most, though, wasn’t the perfect reproduction of the classical characters, but the figures of the modern characters, more or less important. I heard about it, butI couldn’t imagine they had so many, all different and of many different kinds… Yet another proof that Neapolitan’s fantasy has no equal. from Maradona and Totò, unfailable in each and every shop to Berlusconi, the Pope and Insigne (a Naples football team player). Many caricatures, serious or funny, all equal but all different, which represent, together with the classical figures, the soul of the workshops and of their owners, who perform a job passed on from generation to generation.
I came to know that each and every year there is a some kind of vote on the character which, more than any other, was appreciated, so to earn a place between the statues of the most famous alley in Naples… A little like
Time magazine cover!

San Gregorio Armeno - statuine

Not only statues, though: before my eyes in every shop followed one another houses, objects, trees, backgrounds, shops and all the necessary to build your own Nativity Scene or enlarge one. And among them, shops of souvenirs, Christmas ornaments, typical products.. And I enthused myself before all those hand-crafted Christmas creations, I wanted to buy each and every thing, I looked like a child in a toy shop. That’s why, after that first time, I try to get back there every year… because the places which makes you feel as a child are so rare that deserves to be held in our heart and visited at least once a year, even just to thank them of the emotion they give us.

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