Pianvignale Nativity Play

Pianvignale Nativity Play

Every year in the nights of December 24th and 29th and January 5th, the Pianvignale hamlet organises and gives place to one of the main winter events: the “Presepe vivente”. This is an important gathering for tourists and locals. The Nativity play attracts every year about 3500 visitors. Here you will get the opportunity to get to know the “bassa valle” (the lower part of the valley) and taste some of its typical products: apples, chestnuts, cheese, bread, butter and honey. So, besides the old crafts and the traditional food, such as “polenta” and “caldarroste” (roast chestnuts), you will be able to experience some beautiful “frittelle di mele” (apple pancakes) or the homemade jams prepared by the locals. The “osteria” (tavern) will be open in case you would like to warm up a bit with a vin brule’ (mulled wine), a coffee or a hot chocolate.

The revival of crafts of the past allows you to search and keep alive forgotten skills that have been so important in the past and therefore for our being today. Hard work and intelligence have underpinned for years the people who lived in the mountains. Art and crafts were handed down from father to son; life was poorer but with more solidarity. The bare essential was enough to live and brought people closer to simplicity and to the mystery of the cave of Bethlehem.

Pianvignale Nativity play started at the beginning of the ‘80s from the well-accepted project of Suor Ivana, tireless entertainer of the kindergarten and of parish life. After a break of several years, the initiative started again in 2003, with new impetus by the President of the Pro Loco, Paolo Bruno.

For a couple of months before Christmas the people from Pianvignale put a lot of effort into the organization of the Nativity Play. They prepare more than 45 stations where they perform the ancient crafts such as the stonecutter, the founder, the baker, the embroiderer, the blacksmith, the roasted chestnut seller, the cheese-maker, etc. Besides this you can also find a mill, Herod's palace and the stable of Baby Jesus.

There are more or less 170 role-players and each one of them is dressed-up as an ancient inhabitant of Bethlehem. The costumes of Herod, of the Three Wise Men and of the Roman soldiers are creations of haute couture. For the delight of children there you can find a lot of animals like sheep, goats, donkeys, cows and horses.

The Nativity Play is on every year at Christmas Eve, on the 29th of December and on the 5th of January when the Three Wise Men brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The ancient crafts

The basket maker uses very old tools and an oven to heat the wood: he paves branches of wild chestnut, folds them and weaves them with skill creating baskets and creels. The weaver wicker produces wicker baskets and other objects from simple branches. A skilled craftsman melts scraps metal in the coal furnace and pours them into molds clay showing the entire procedure to everybody.

The ropers weave hemp using odd devices to get strong ropes of considerable length.

The rake maker shows how in the past farmers used to make the tools they needed using wood and blades.

Women perform the embroiderers, lace-makers, weavers, ceramists and all the other “women jobs”.

Some artisans make copper chandeliers, plates and vases with hammer and burin.

The carpenter shows how tables and chairs used to be made with old-fashioned tools.

The mattress maker cards wool and sews mattresses like they did in the past.

The farrier’s workshop is really interesting both for kids and grown-ups, as they show how to forge a horseshoe and explain how hooves were shoed and looked after.

The chair-mender and the knife-grinder were peddlers, and sometimes they worked in exchange of food and accommodation.

Woodsman cut trees with an axe, to prepare wood for the winter.

In the seed shop you can find a lot of different kinds of plants and seeds that farmers used in our fields.

In the cheese workshop you can see how milk was curdled and how cheese and butter were prepared.

You can even see how the shucking of the corn was made with a 100-year-old machine, and then you can taste our polenta, cooked in the “caudrot”, the typical pot in which farmers used to prepare it. Nowadays polenta is considered a high-quality food, while before it was a dish for poor people.

The engraver writes and draws wood with a red-hot iron stick, and the blacksmith makes nails with hammer and anvil.

In a shed they prepare the torches that light the “presepe” with hemp and liquid wax, and in the old rectory they spin wool with a spindle and they knit with an old machine called “ruet”.

The butcher prepares salami and sausages, and a couple of past makers skilfully do their job.

The washerwoman puts some lye in the tub where she alternated layers of bed sheets and ashes, and now she pours hot water on top, and rinses everything in the fountain. This is how they used to do the laundry in the past.

You will enjoy the work of the mosaic artist and the doll-maker, who creates dolls with cloths and corn leaves.

As illiteracy was a big problem until recent times, the scribe used to help people in writing letters and documents.

The wood sculptors are real artists, and in their workshop you can see them creating wooden works of art.

The wood oven for the baker was specifically made for the “presepe”. When they are cooking, you can smell fresh bread in the whole hamlet.

And of course you will see the traditional nativity characters, Herodes, with his Roman guards and dancers, the shepherds, the Three Wise Men (on January 5th), and other characters such as the wizard, the beggar, the jugglers, and the musicians.

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