In Italy Christmas (Natale) is the most important of Christian celebrations but, even if you are not into religion, you will enjoy many events if you visit Salento during Christmas time. In every town and village, streets light up with Christmas lights, while churches and squares are decorated with Christmas cribs of very different dimensions and makes. We recommend to visit Lecce, where the main square, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, becomes a wonderland of lights and the roman amphitheatre a giant crib. Cribs are not only a representations of the Nativity scene but also a mirror of salentine culture: the crib in the amphitheatre is set with olive trees and dry masonry, reproducing salentine countryside.
Salentine culture and traditions are represented also in another form of Christmas’ events, “presepe vivente”, living nativity scene. Human performers costumed as Joseph and Mary bring to life the nativity scene, following a tradition that dates back to 1223, when St. Francis staged the first pantomime of the Nativity at Greccio. The interesting part of this representation is that it features a mock rural 19th-century village, complete with artisans in traditional costumes working at their particular trades. Living nativity scenes are performed in many places in South Italy and in Salento, and acquire local features according to the traditions of the place.
In Salento we recommend the Presepe vivente of Tricase. The town of Tricase is located 53 km south of Lecce, only 15 km from Santa Maria di Leuca, the furthest south spot of Salento. In 1976 a group of friends decided to perform a living nativity scene, starting a tradition that continues today. The Presepe has grown bigger and bigger and takes place every year on December 25 and 26, January 1 and 6, and on Saturdays and Sundays between December 25 and January 6. The event is a way to preserve old traditions: you will meet the potter, the blacksmith, the cobbler and the weaver many other craftsmen, and you will see old working tools and objects of everyday life that are disappearing. The reconstruction of places and objects is precise and accurate, and performers are real craftsmen showing you their art. Many people are involved in the event and participate on a volunteer basis, showing their enthusiasm for tradition. An entrance fee is required, and the proceeds from entrance fees are donated to humanitarian causes.