Traditionally, the main focus of Christmas decorations in Italy is the presepe, meaning Nativity or creche. Nearly every church has one. Displays often go beyond Nativity scenes and depict entire villages and towns. Presepe are usually erected around December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Nativity scene tradition originated in the Italian town of Greccio in 1223. There, it is believed that St. Francis of Assisi constructed a creche out of straw in a cave where he conducted a midnight Christmas mass.
In Italy the style and materials used in creating the presepe are characterized by geographical origins and historical time periods. Sicilian presepe, for instance feature materials such as coral, mother of pearl, and other sea objects. Roman presepe reproduce the typical landscape of the Roman countryside including pine and olive trees and the ancient aqueducts.
Initially, churches were the only settings for Christmastime presepe, but soon wealthy and prominent citizens created their own. Some went to extremes and commissioned well known sculptors and artisans to build them. Presepe figures that resembled the local townspeople became popular additions. Eventually, Italians from all backgrounds -- rich and poor; urban and rural alike -- built their own "presepio" and distinct Nativity scenes could be found everywhere in Italy during the Christmas season.
For the D'Esposito Family the tradition of the presepe was brought to life each year by "Pops." He began annual construction in early November and often added final touches as late as Christmas morning. Each year his presepe started anew with a different location (room) in the house and unique additions. We all remember the year he had live goldfish in a mountain side lake! His wonderful Christmas mountain scenes, constructed from papier mache included over 125 figurines, with some pieces in the family for more than 100 years. Family and friends looked forward to seeing the presepe each year and it remains an important part of the D'Esposito family holiday tradition.
We are pleased to have restored "Pops" final presepe which he constructed in 1997. It had remained in his home until this past week, at which time it was broken down and carefully restored. We can now share it with you. It is on display at St Hugh's Church (21 E Ninth St. Huntington Station, 631 427638).
Pops's Presepe is a testament to the man: what he did, and who he was.
We hope you enjoy it.