Christmas crib – presepio

In Italy the nativity crib is called a presepio (presepe, plural) which represents the story of the birth of Jesus. The presepio is a three-dimensional scene of the stable with figurines that include Mary, Joseph, shepherds, people from everyday life and the three wise men. The size of the nativity scene can vary and may include buildings and features that create an entire village and rural landscape.

Nativity scene – Michael Campbell

The presepe are usually displayed in Italian homes and churches from 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, to 6th January, the feast of the Epiphany, when the wise men were added to the scene. Presepe are often displayed in piazzas, shops and other public areas. The figures can vary in scale from miniature to life size and in many families, preparations for the presepio begin a long time before it is displayed. In some villages, the local council holds competitions for the best presepio.

Memories of creating a presepio in Bigolino
Johnny Tormena, who was born in 1927, in Bigolino remembers the excitement of preparing the presepio as a child. He collected small amounts of money from selling clean bones to the rag and bone man in the village and used the proceed to buy figures during the year. Small shops in Bigolino sold the little statues and he started with just three: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Johnny set up the presepio in a corner of the kitchen and collected moss in the fields to make it look like grass and he used stalks of hay in the manger and made paths with fine gravel.

Presepio – Spello, 2007 (Alex Bennett)

During the year, he asked family members to save shoe boxes which he cut up to make houses and castles and he found coloured paper and into the shapes he created, he placed candles that illuminated the colours. It was a considerable project for a young boy to create the presepio.


When the Tormena family migrated to Australia in 1939, the figurines were included in the luggage and Johnny constructed the presepio for many years in Adelaide.

The Griguol family from Meduna di Livenza – memories of presepio
In 1996, Rose Noble published a book about her grandparents, their lives in Meduna di Livenza in the province of Treviso in the Veneto region and their migration to South Australia. It was based on the memories of some older relatives. The book is called, “Polenta in Australia: The Story of Giuseppe and Rosa Griguol and their Family.”

Giuseppe married Rosa Samogin in 1925. They had six children, Maria, Antonio, Lina, Lea, Mario and Silvano. In March 1939, Giuseppe arrived in Adelaide and worked in the Riverland area. Rosa with five of their children joined him in March 1949. Rosa died suddenly in 1950, shortly before Antonio arrived. Giuseppe died in 1969.

In one chapter, Rose described life in Italy and highlighted the importance of the presepio in the Griguol family. She began by saying how the preparation for it was thrilling and contributed to the anticipation of Christmas in the Griguol household where 17 members of the extended family lived:

Presepio – Spello 2007 (Alex Bennett)

… Preparations started weeks beforehand … The presepio took up a large area of the room. It was Toni [Antonio] who played a major part in its creation. He brought in barrels of dirt to make the ground and the rolling hills. Cotton wool was used for snow, sheep skin for the sheep, cardboard cut-outs for the figures and stable, and moss was used for the grass. It was an entertainment in itself to go afield with baskets to collect the moss from under the trees. A river and lake were represented by slabs of glass. A bridge was built. Candles were lit around the presepio. One Christmas, snail shells were filled with oil and lit. The stable was aglow …

(Rose Noble, “Polenta in Australia: The Story of Giuseppe and Rosa Griguol and their Family,” 1996, page 96).

Nativity crib (Michael Campbell)

With all good wishes for Christmas. Buon Natale.

Madeleine Regan
13 December 2020


One thought on “Christmas crib – presepio”

  1. Evocative. Christmas is rather circumscribed this year. The experience of the christmas season in Kaysersberg, Annecey in recent years impressed the european focus on this anniversary. With accents.
    This year somewhat more sombre.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected, please contact site owner for access