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Neapolitan cribs

A festive shopping spree in the Italian city where it's Christmas 365 days a year!

Neapolitan cribs

There's a place in Naples where Christmas is more Christmassy than anywhere else: Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street where the city's master craftsmen create Italy's most famous Nativity scenes.

The creation of the domestic Nativity scene is a serious business in Naples. Work begins immediately after All Saints Day, when whole families get involved in making holy stables and, often, whole villages (if not cities), from cardboard boxes and wood. The construction and embellishment of these fantastical land and townscapes continues right up until Christmas Eve, when, on the stroke of midnight, the youngest member of the family is given the job of laying the figure of Baby Jesus in the manger.

Never-ending Christmas

It's Christmas all year round in Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street where Naples' master nativity makers work. Although their shops are open throughout the year, ideally, you'll want to pay a visit in the weeks just before Christmas. This is when the locals come, to find that special figurine, animal, or the latest special effect for their family nativity scene.
Then there are those who come simply to see which film stars or politicians have been reproduced in miniature form by the craftsmen who, each year, choose a couple of famous faces to be transformed into contemporary shepherds (celebrities involved in highly publicized sex and corruption scandals are always a favorite).

Cribs for every budget

Inspired by the 18th century tradition, San Gregorio Armeno's crib scenes feature all the classic characters popular in that period, such as the sleeping shepherd, the gypsy and the monk. Over the decades, a number or typically Neapolitan tradesmen, such as the pizza chef and pasta maker ("maccheronaro"), have become essential members of the Christmas cast.
Whilst in most shops a small shepherd or dinky donkey will set you back just a few euro, you'll spend considerably more in Ferrigno or Maddaloni, shops famous for their elegant creations made using only the finest of materials. Veritable collectors' items, these figurines, often dressed in precious silk, are works of art, similar to those once commissioned by Naples' bourgeoisie classes.

Do it yourself!

Legend has it that Charles of Bourbon personally supervised the creation of the gigantic nativity scene which adorned his Neapolitan palace at Christmas time and, whilst there are no end of readymade nativity scenes on the market, from the basic stable to the most elaborate of landscapes, the best cribs are always those you make yourself.
If you decide to "do it yourself", the shops lining Via San Gregorio Armeno stock everything you might possibly need: from the clay with which to mould the figures, to the paints and textiles necessary to transform them in to kings, shepherds and angels. Then there are the craft materials necessary to realize the landscape: cardboard, sponge, cork, and mini-motors to keep the water flowing in that authentic stream!

Pit-stop for pizza and pastries

Shop, but not 'til you drop! If, during the Christmas shopping spree in Via San Gregorio Armeno your tummy starts to rumble, silence it with some of Naples' delicious street food: nothing eases the hunger pangs better than a generous slice of piping-hot Pizza Margherita or a deep-fried "zeppola"(one of the city's favorite festive cakes).

Best bites:
Pizzeria Sorbillo: via dei Tribunali 32, one of the city's most famous pizza restaurants
Pizzeria di Matteo: via dei Tribunali 94, the place to head for a full-blown Neapolitan fry-up!
Il pizzaiolo del presidente: Via Tribunali, 120, Bill Clinton enjoyed a pizza here in 1994 during the G7

Master nativity scenes in the Museo di San Martino

If, after the visit to San Gregorio Armeno, you want to learn a little more about Neapolitan nativity scenes, head to the city's San Martino Museum, home to Italy's most important collection of crib scenes, including the "Cuciniello": a magnificent display of 180 "shepherds", 42 angels and 29 animals.

Shopping

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Useful links
Bay of Naples
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