The Neapolitan Christmas

Pulcinella - The Neapolitan Christmas

At Christmas you have to be with your family,
but New Year’s Eve you can spend with whoever you want!”
(Neapolitan saying)

In Naples, Christmas is the celebration of family, smells, lights, and, above all, culinary delicacies. Even before Christmas, families set up the Neapolitan nativity scene (Presepe), which has a much longer tradition in Naples than the Christmas tree. Every family has their nativity scene that they decorate themselves, and which is being extended each year with several figurines, lights, small fountains, or animals.

In the historic city, the street of the nativity scene builders, Via San Gregorio Armeno, is especially busy at this time of year. You can find many craftspeople who offer nativity scenes and figurines in all variations. In addition to the figurines of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, you can get detailed copies of all household objects, gastronomic delights, exotic animals, and sometimes even caricatured politicians to extend your nativity scene.

The Christmas tree wasn’t put up in Neapolitan homes until the 50s. In most cases they are artificial and are being decorated with funny, colourful ornaments (for example, with plastic oranges). Sometimes, they even rotate while an integrated music box plays apparently tacky Christmas music. All in all, Christmas isn’t a contemplative or quiet celebration. The Neapolitans celebrate Christmas in a cheerful way, and they like to decorate their shops and streets with twinkling, colourful lights.

During the whole Christmas season and at New Year’s Eve, Neapolitans like to play Tombola. The Tombola is a game of luck for the whole family, which is based on the mysticism of numbers and their connections to dreams (just like the typical prognosis of the lottery numbers). In Naples, every number has been assigned a certain symbol (la Smorfia): each number has a certain meaning, for example, 16 stands for the bottom, or 22 stands for the crazy person. A player draws numbers from a little basket and tells a funny or exciting story based on the symbols. Each player has a board with a specific combination of numbers, and the person who completes his or her number combination first, is the winner.

More about Christmas in Naples
Christmas in Napoli
Traditional Christmas Menu
The Neapolitan Crib (nativity scenes)
The street of the nativity scene makers

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