Year 3 - n.2 - February 2003


If you have not put away your crib on 6th January evening, you can do it today, 2nd February, or also tomorrow San Biagio's day.

In fact, the traditional dates to put away the crib, set at  the end of November of the previous year, are the 6th January, God's Epiphany, the 17th January, Sant'Antonio Abate's day, or the 3rd February, Saint Biagio's day. They are days that celebrate the old Saints, just as near Christmas there are days that celebrate Young Saints (Santo Stefano, SS. Innocenti and San Giovanni Evangelista)

They are not casual events: Christianity, replacing the old pagan religions, has not abolished the antique celebrations of nature that celebrated the passage from the old year to the new one and the awakening of the generating forces of nature after the hibernation of the winter months, but it has given them a different meaning, moving the struggle between the good and evil from the physical level (good is what gives life, evil is what opposes the life) to the level of spirit, where good and evil are considerated in an ethics dimension.  


In particular, Greek and Roman were afraid of  the month of February: the spring forces are being awaked, but the icy lies still in wait. So they made several rituals to avoid the dangers linked to the birth of the young vegetation and to the contamination for the coming back of the died souls who, by opening of the bosom of the earth, left their underground home and came to visit the region of  the living. The month of February (februarius, in latin) takes its name from the rites of "purification" (lat. februum), that were necessary to protect the living from this coming back that contaminated, but also guaranteed the fecundity of the women and the earth.

This set of meanings breaks out on the Neapolitan crib in the triad made up of the hunter, the shipman and the washerwoman; they are three characters who, as we have already told, cannot be absent on the traditional crib. 


The figure of the washerwoman, in particular, is interesting. In the scene of the Nativity it looks like a "midwife": waherwoman and "midwife" have got a clear meaning of "purification". 


In the next number, an article of D. Assante will analyse some pictures where there is the figure of the washerwoman, while I will speak about the crib and its characters: in particular about Saint Joseph and also Saint Biagio. Dear readers, I will always speak in this desultory manner that someone will consider discontinuous, but I hope you will not  dislike because it gives my talking the real character of a conversation among friends.   

In this number, I suggest you an article of my old book In Limine that represents a fundamental stage in my reflections. 


Italo Sarcone