Back to Bethlehem: New Years Celebrations in our Italian Town
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Le Marche involves choosing from a variety of activities. The options are simply endless! Virtually every town, no matter how small, has its own fireworks display, while most theatres across the region stage spectacular shows, from gospel choirs to Shakespearean plays, to operas and concerts.
This year, we spent the day before New Year’s Eve sitting in a boat, dressed in old costumes, for three hours in sub zero temperatures. Why did we do this? Read on to find out!
PRESEPE IN LE MARCHE
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One of the things we love the most about the holiday season in Italy is seeing historic old towns completely transformed into Biblical Bethlehem for a few days after Christmas. Our town, Force, stages its own real-life nativity (presepe) on December 30th, where for an evening its narrow cobbled streets are lit with candles and decorated with huge palm leaves and olive trees. Cows, donkeys, ponies and chickens are brought in, blacksmiths and bread makers set up shop in doorways softly lit with lanterns, Roman soldiers patrol the streets and everyone is in togas, head coverings and long swathing robes.
Mary and Joseph take refuge in a makeshift inn, constructed in the doorway of Force’s grand church of San Francesco, and the last born child in the town takes the role of the baby Jesus.
Vendors sell bruschetta from wooden stalls, mulled wine is handed out, cheese is made by artisans and the air is filled with the scent of spices. We helped construct this event, hanging long white sheets in the entry ways of numerous homes whose owners open their doors for the evening, allowing local artisans to sell their wares or bake bread from these tiny hallways.
We tied olive branches to tree trunks, palms to bamboo walls, even laid fake grass and built a wooden fenced pen to house cows and sheep for the evening, before assuming the role of fishermen in a boat in the piazza, rather beautifully dressed in long white robes with head bands. (Result – David looked like Jesus himself, particularly each time he leapt from our boat and walked across the ‘water’ to grab some mulled wine. I had heavily layered in thermals and fleeces so looked like a giant marshmallow.)
For three hours we sat in our boat, pretending to fish, smiling each time visitors gathered with cameras to photograph us. Every time we looked up from our fishing nets, large groups of local people snapped us with their phones, while opera blared from giant speakers through the streets and temperatures dropped to minus two.
The Roman soldiers brought us wine and bruschetta, the event’s organiser, Giovanna delivered us food, and by the end of the evening I felt pleasantly warmed by the whole bottle of mulled wine I must have consumed!
A feast of pasta, salami and cheeses was served at the church for all of the participants, where everyone congratulated each other on their ‘performances!’ We took a large bag of fruit and vegetables home, leftovers from the food vendors and sellers.
We love these customs that span across Italy, and in our little town, the feeling of community (which is prevalent all year round) really comes to life during the holidays.
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