Priscilla Normandia Greenwood's
Family Album

An Italian custom: Il Presepe

Presepe - 1 Presepe - 2
Il Presepe made by Maria Anzisi, 
Nola, Italy
Christmas, 2001
Presepe - 3
Presepe - 4
Received from Maria's brother,
Giampaolo Anzisi
A very special e-mail friend, Giampaolo Anzisi, sent these pictures of a "presepe" hand-made by his sister, Maria Anzisi, of Nola, Italy.  Nola is very close to Palma Campania where all of my ancestors lived.

"Il Presepe" is a traditional Italian custom during the Christmas season, especially in Southern Italy. In English it is loosely translated as the Christmas Crib or Nativity Scene. Maria was kind enough to give permission to share these pictures here. She has created a beautiful presepe.

I was especially interested in this custom because several of my family members created a presepe in Brooklyn, New York, when I was a little girl. My brother, Michael, remembers the one in Uncle Benny Tuorto's barber shop on Union Avenue in Williamsburg. People came from all over to see it. It covered an entire wall of his shop. The presepe I do remember was at Uncle Sam (Salvatore) Tuorto's house. We visited his daughter, cousin Millie Alternative, in 2000. She asked if I remembered the presepe and that was the first time I remember hearing that word. Then I heard it again from Giampaolo.

Gaimpaolo shared his family's customs which sound very much like the customs my grandparents continued when they emigrated from Italy to the United States. He wrote:

"In the Christmas Eve, also my sisters have the custom to put 'Gesu' bambino' (Christ child) in the "mangiatoia" (manger) just before the midnight. Then, they come to the principal church in Nola to hear the Midnight Mass.

"I didn't know the custom of seven-fishes but any italian town has its customs.
But in the Christmas Eve my family also eats: baccala', alici (anchovies), calamari, polpo (octopus), seppie (cuttlefish),  vongole (clams). We don't eat eels (anguille) because, as you, my wife doesn't like them, but my father-in-law eats.

"We also eat traditional desserts like baba', rococo', mustacciuoli, cauzuncielli and castagne (roast chestnut), finocchi (fennel), formaggi (cheese), mandarini e uva (tangerine and grapes) with pane (bread) and a good italian caffe'."

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Now Playing: "O Holy Night (Cantique de Noël)"

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.


Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend!


Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!


Words: Placide Clappeau, 1847; translated from French to English by John Sullivan Dwight).
Music: Adolphe C. Adam

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