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For centuries, and in keeping with Italian tradition, individuals built and then assembled an annual “presepio” (crèche). These were often displayed in the homes or in shops prior during the Christmas season. While the nativity scene was a focal point, the actual diorama included detailed scenes of daily village life in the 18th century. The artistry and subject matter were as imaginative as the creators. It is not surprising that presepe became treasured heirlooms. 

One such presepio – Presepio Napoletano ­– one of the largest in the United States – will be on view at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center in Tuckahoe, from December 3, 2011 to January 13, 2012. Filled with more than 200 historically accurate figurines created in astonishing detail, the presepio depicts life in an 18th century Neapolitan village. It was built by the artisans of Via San Gregorio Armeno, the famous street in Naples, where nativity scenes were routinely designed and built. This year’s exhibit is the sixth annual display of the Presepio Napoletano at the Cultural Center, in what has become a popular and treasured tradition.     

 “The Presepio Napoletano combines art, religion, and the traditions of Italian culture all at once,” says Maria Masciotti, Executive Director of the Cultural Center. “The characters are seen in a variety of poses reflecting everyday life in 18th century Naples. The materials the artisans used – wire and hemp figures dressed in period clothes with painted heads and hands made of terra cotta – were typical of the region.” Elsewhere in Italy materials might have included coral, ivory, alabaster or olive wood. It is said that historically, some of the fabric came from discarded priestly vestments, rich in detail and color. 

The striking nativity scene includes the Holy Family, the Wise Men, shepherds, and accompanying angels. There is also a depiction of Mt. Vesuvius, which provides a dramatic backdrop to magnificent ponds, caves, and castles that surround the miniature buildings and piazzas. “One can only marvel at the intricate detail in the masonry work, especially the columns and bricks with their amazing realism,” adds program administrator, Patrizia Calce, who discovered the presepio in 2006.     

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Cultural Center has scheduled the following special programs for families: 

Buon Natale! on Saturday, December 10 during which children ages 4 to 12 celebrate the Italian customs and traditions of Christmas with singing, baking, and creating their own unique nativity set to take home and enjoy throughout the season. 

La Storia del Natale on Thursday, December 15, features guest presenter Louis Brunelli who will explore the historical significance of Christmas  -- its food, art, music gift-giving and mythology. 

 Viva Viva la Befana! on Saturday, January 7, celebrates the feast of the Epiphany with a musical retelling of the famous folk tale. 

The Presepio Napoletano exemplifies the Cultural Center’s goal to preserve, promote and celebrate the rich heritage of classic and contemporary Italian culture. This unique piece of art truly sets the Westchester Italian Cultural Center apart from all other Italian and Italian American organizations. 

Presepio Napoletano will be on view Tuesday – Friday, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm, December 3 through January 13, 2012 (closed December 24 and December 31).  Hours are subject to change; group visits are made by appointment. Suggested Contribution: $10 adults; $5 kids + seniors For more information, please call 914-771-8700 or visit the Westchester Italian Cultural Center at www.wiccny.org

About the Westchester Italian Cultural Center

The Westchester Italian Cultural Center (www.wiccny.org), located in the Generoso Pope Foundation building at Depot Square in Tuckahoe, NY, preserves, promotes and celebrates the rich heritage of classic and contemporary Italian culture by encouraging an appreciation of the Italian language, arts and letters, history, cuisine and commerce through educational programs, exhibits and events. The Center is open to people of all cultures, and encourages the community and members to take advantage of the diverse events and programs held throughout the year. The Center provides programs that celebrate Italian culture for people of all ages, all ethnicities, and from all walks of life. In the spirit of Generoso Pope, the Center will continue to provide quality programming, unique educational courses, and engaging ways to keep Italian culture alive for now and for generations to come. For more information or to become a member, please call (914) 771-8700 or email info@wiccny.org.  


Salvatore LaVerde December 30, 2011 at 08:51 PM
My wife and I really enjoyed visiting this beautiful piece of Italian history set in early Naples honoring the Nativity. Happy it has been restored.


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