Year 1 - n.2 - March 2000


NOTES for the construction of the NEAPOLITAN CHRISTMAS CRIB  


he popular neapolitan christmas crib consists of a series of downhill slopes, suggesting to the onlooker the idea of a trip, an extremely important trip  of which we shall presently  speak of  on various occasions. For the moment, the reader should start off by getting familiar with the different people who inhabit the simple structure made of cork. At the bottom of the hills, on the plain that spreads under the mountain imagined above, are three grottos : the centre one is where the Divine Child is born.

Main characters and basic fundimentals :
Benino, who sleeps : at the top of the first slope; in any case always at the beginning of the itinery.
The Gypsy.
The Washer-Woman.
The Three Wise-Men on horseback : Belshazzar, the old king; Caspar, the negro king; Melchior, the young king. The horses : one white, one red, the third black.
The Hunter.
The Fisherman.
The Innkeeper.
The Banqueters.
The “Ciccibacco”, who drives a carriage full of fireworks. He is coming out of one of the two grottos, while in the other is situated the inn.
In their wanderings these characters come to a bridge, which crosses a river.

The well is absolutely indispensable.
Usually, Benino sleeps in a hay-stack.
At the entrance to the nativity grotto, at both sides, the Bagpipe players : the oldest with the “ciaramella” (a simple  type of bagpipes), the youngest with the traditional bagpipes.

And inside the grotto, of course, the Madonna with Joseph and the Child, who must be placed  in the manger at midnight, when from the  nearby church the festive peals of the bells are heard, ringing out sounds of glory. Do not forget the ox and the donkey, that of the entire scene is the most poetic element.
Then, the Angels, hovering above in small groups. And many, many animals, above all sheep.

All these characters and elements can be found in the seventeenth century Cantata dei  Pastori by Andrea Perrucci.
Sometimes, at the top of the mountain,  someone even puts Herod’s castle and in this case there are roman soldiers too. Therefore it is also possible to represent the Slaughter of the Iinnocents.
For this last scene, do not forget the importance of this symbol in the work of Nicolas Flamel,  which the tradition assures us,  was one of the few alchemists who managed to produce gold : Nicolas Flamel et Perrenelle sa femme

This page is an extract from a  publication of ours that saw the light almost 15 years ago (in limine, Naples 1987) : in that book, the symbolism that pervaded the various characters and the other elements  transpired through the connections  and  cross-references in other pages; we offered an even more ample exposition in another work (Il sogno di Benino, Salerno, 1989), dedicated exclusively to the common neapolitan christmas crib. In our successive analisis, we shall try using a sistematic method, and we shall inevitably refer to these studies from time to time, for which we ask our patient readers to bear with us.


Napoli, 19 marzo 2001,

in die festo quo colitur Beatus Joseph patriarcha, Virginis Mariae sacratissimus sponsus, Iesu Christi pueruli fidelissimus custos.                                            

Italo Sarcone