Since moving to Barga three years ago, I have rediscovered a love for Christmas so, needless to say, I’m beginning to get excited. Here in Tuscany, the decorations are up, the tree is looking very smart and sparkly and the presents are all wrapped.
For us, the festivities really start on the evening of the 23rd, in the old historic centre of Barga, with the 33rd Presepe Vivente (Living Nativity). Of course, much depends on the weather, because the whole event could be cancelled so, fingers crossed for a fine evening.
What is it?
A “Living Nativity”? To be honest, I had no idea what to expect the first time. I understood the words, but the concept rendered me somewhat more clueless than usual! Certainly I did not expect to be rubbing shoulders with artisans from past ages; busy at work mending shoes, baking bread, making sausages or lace and knitted goods etc. Nor did I anticipate having to stand aside for Roman soldiers from 2000 years ago, or be invited to take part in the official census, as Mary and Joseph did in Bethlehem.
Barga’s Living Nativity is really a fusion of Barga from past times, the Holy Land from two millennia ago, as well as the Barga of today.
Each year is similar and yet very different. We are now much more involved in, and familiar with, life in Barga and, as the mulled wine smoothly slides down and warms the body, and friends and acquaintances are met, the event becomes one viewed from the inside, rather than looked in on.
The smells, sights and tastes of past years, and the present, evokes in me a sense of belonging to this amazing community. The sound of happy people of all ages, and from all ages, mingles with the sounds of bagpipes, guitar accompanied singing and the music of the fisarmonica.
The Holy Family set off in procession later in the evening, through the old, narrow streets towards Barga’s duomo, which stands proudly above the town. Mary and Joseph, leading their donkey, head the procession. At the duomo they join a nativity tableau with the newborn Jesus, and receive visits and gifts from the shepherds and the Magi (Wise Men). The duomo bells ring out loudly into the night and Christmas begins.
The photos in this article (copyright Massimo Pia) give only a brief impression of this event. For a clearer idea, why not look up some of the YouTube video clips?
The Presepe Vivente is a joyous and fascinating spectacle; once again as amazing me as to the adherence to and pride in Barga’s traditions, festivities and beliefs. Barga’s Presepe Vivente is the oldest such event in the Serchio Valley, and has become an important date in our calendar. We wouldn’t miss it for the world, and are looking forward to this coming Monday evening. Not only does the Nativity “live”, Barga and its people live!
And that’s just the start! Until January 6th life will be full of meetings, parties and celebrations, ending in the wee small hours of Epiphany (Twelfth Night) with the party in Piazzo Angelio, with its Befanas, Befannottis, bonfires, fancy dress competition, dancing, laughter and good humour.
Buon Natale e Felice Nuovo Anno! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
By Jenny M Want
For Jenny, living in Italy is a dream come true. A retired teacher, she now lives in scenic Barga in Tuscany with her partner David.
Immersed in Barga life, Jenny passes her time writing, researching, observing and learning.
Jenny has written a fun book for children set in Barga, Tuscany – The Bat of Barga.