249 – Christmas and the Living Nativity of the Village of Maranola

Maranola is a small medieval village overlooking the town of Formia on the South Lazio coast. Each Christmas-time the village puts on a wonderful “Living Nativity” known as the “Presepe Vivente“.  Many of the local people take part in this project, and ground floor rooms and cellars undergo a transformation. Here living scenes are created depicting the every day life of days gone by.  Some re-enact former occupations, ancient skills and crafts.










Many of the townsfolk are dressed in the traditional costmes of the ancient region of Ciociaria. This area takes its name from the word “ciocie“, which is an ancient form of footware, thought to date back to Etruscan times. It was a type of sandal, with a curiously curved toe, that was bound to the calf with leather laces. It was typically worn by the local shepherds and peasants of the area.



There are also scenes depicting the preparation of typical local produce.








Over the festive Christmas period Maranola has three editions of this event. These are normally held on the 26th December, New Years Day and on the day of the Epiphany, the 6th January.  Last year we attended the last event.

The sound of the pipes of the zampognieri heralded the arrival of the Three Kings bearing their gifts.


They all made their way to the stable when the charming Nativity scene was taking place. A local couple with a young baby played the roles of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.



We really are hoping to visit Maranola again this Christmas. This is a very special local event – not to be missed.


Well may we take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Peace and Goodwill to all.

We also wish you all the very best in the coming New Year.

Love from us all at Tre Cancelle

Louie and Paul, the Tre Cancelle “Woof-gang” and our growing menagerie


All photos by me © Louise Shapcott



Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga’s Beaches and Historic Itri

Discover South Lazio




247 – Minturno Festival of the Wheat Harvest and International Folklore Festival

Each summer at the beginning of July  the town of Minturno comes together to celebrate the Festa delle Regne or the Wheat Harvest Festival. This year marked the 63rd edition. The main feast day celebrations are held on the second Sunday of July when thanks are offered to the patron of the town, the Madonna delle Grazie.  Historically monks of the Franciscan order used to bake bread that was then distributed to the poor.

There is a procession throughout the old town where the statue of the Madonna and child is carried on a rustic cart decorated with wheat sheaves, and pulled by a pair of strong oxen.



There is also a parade of decorated carts and trailers, representing the harvest, that have been submitted by various neighbourhood groups. These are towed up to the main square of Minturno and a prize is generally awarded for the best design. The designs are incredibly intricate and detailed.











There is a long and colourful parade made up of various groups, these include characters dressed in elegant medieval costumes, sbandieratori or flag throwers and musicians.





The Associazione Folklorica di Minturno was formed in 1989 to strive to promote and keep alive the town’s popular traditions, culture and musical heritage. From a young age local children are encouraged to learn about their traditional heritage. There are dance classes organised to suit all ages and troupes of dancers are put together.


Throughout the year the skilled dressmakers of Minturno busy themselves by sewing fine costumes that are typical of this area.


photo by Melinda Abbott


photo by Melinda Abbott

The most famous Minturnese costume is called “la Pacchiana”.  This has the characteristic elaborate head-dress made of a starched and folded white linen or muslin cloth, which is edged in lace. There is a white blouse with full puffed sleeves, made of a finely pleated material, which are gathered just above the elbow. The laced bodice is richly embroidered in gold thread, and over this a cream-coloured shawl is worn over the shoulders, once again decorated with gold embroidery.




The skirt is long and black. At the front a black silk apron is worn, while at the back there is the addition of a special fold of red material known as a “pagnuccia”. The costume wearer is also adorned with abundant gold jewellery and large earrings.  Historically, these ornate costumes would have only been worn on special feast days or at weddings. Often the beautiful treasured costume would be passed down in families from mother to daughter. The men’s clothing typically consists of a black jacket, a white frilled shirt with wide sleeves, knee length trousers, a wide red band tied around the hips, black shoes and bright red stockings.



At the festival the groups perform numerous traditional dances such as the tarantella and the saltarella.

On the same Sunday evening as the Feast of the Wheat Harvest,  Minturno also hosts an acclaimed International Folklore Festival. This welcomes other dance troupes from around the world to share their cultural heritage and traditions. This year there were colourful performances by groups from Chile, Mexico, Macedonia and Maldova.




















In this cultural exchange dancers, singers and musicians from all around the world can meet up and share their traditional cultural heritage and ethnicity in an atmosphere of warmth, friendship, peace and harmony.

All photos are by me © Louise Shapcott (except those by Melinda Abbott above)



Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Holiday Apartments Near Sperlonga’s Beaches and Historic Itri

Discover South Lazio

137 – Il Presepio Vivo di Maranola

This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales,  to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”. 

The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).

This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story. 

As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.

Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.

It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of  typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.

In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.

There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.

There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.

As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner. 

As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300’s.  Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.

The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church  has some ancient frescoes.

Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated.  Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.

Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo.  Well done to each and every one who took part.

For more information about the town of Maranola see my website:  http://maranola.shapcott-family.com


The tiny town of Campodimele, near Itri, also put on a “Living Nativity” this Christmas. 

Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event. 

I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!

I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!

For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website:  http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

84 – Buon Natale 2009

A cheery “Ciao” to you, one and all,

hoping each and everyone is keeping well

and getting into the swing of this year’s seasonal festivities.

I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas, since at the age of 9 or 10 I became very disillusioned on abruptly discovering that Father Christmas was in fact not real.  I was absolutely devastated.  How I had been duped !!!

My dear mother, Tina, always loved Christmas. She seemed to forever see Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child.  When I was young she used to delight in taking me on trips to London to visit the large department stores with their glittering, alluring window displays.  Here I would be enticed to visit dear Olde Santa in his magical twinkling grotto.  However, so fervent was her passion, that in the period leading up to Christmas I was taken to visit Santa in several different stores.  Even at the age of 4 or 5 I must have had quite an enquiring mind, as I soon began to deduce that each of the Santas somehow looked subtly different, ie the colour of their gloves, boots and belts etc !!!

In Italy festivities begin on the 6th December with the Festa di San Nicola, followed by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, which is marked by a Public Holiday.  The 13th December is the feast of Santa Lucia also known as “The Festival of Lights”. It seems that no expense is spared as each Comune stings up its extravagant sparkling, displays of Christmas street illuminations, on entering or each town one is greeted with the cheery message Buona Festa.

Outside their premises some shop keepers lay out cheery red or green felt on the pavements, and display Christmas trees decorated with ribbons and bows, and assorted dangling pasta shapes that have been gilded with gold spray paint, creating a jolly festive atmosphere.

One thing that it is not easy to find in Italy is Christmas cards.  Occasionally they are sold individually, and then choice is very limited, the quality very poor, and they very over-priced.  Last year the only place we were able to find packs of Christmas cards was in IKEA in Naples.  It seems that greetings cards in general have not really caught on in Italy.  The staff at our local Post Office often comment on how many letters are cards we receive, particularly around Christmastime.  I think that next year I will have to get busy and make my own greetings cards, perhaps this could be a new little cottage industry for me.

In Italy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas traditionally shepherd pipers, known as pifferai and zampognari, come down from the mountainous regions of the Abruzzi to herald the pending birth of the Christ child, by playing their traditional festive music.  The ciaramella is a wooden flute, and the zambogna is a type of reed bag-pipe, the air sacks of which are traditionally made of goat or sheep skin and the flutes are commonly carved of olive wood.  They musicians sport an unusual type of foot ware, known as the ciocia, which is said to date back to Etruscan times.  This consists of a rudimentary leather sole which towards the toe curves upwards.  This is held in place by long straps which are tightly bound around the foot and calf.  This type of foot-ware is part of the local costume of the people of Ciociaria, who take their name from this unique type of shoe.  My mother’s family originated from this region.

Each church erects a special Nativity tableau, called a presepe, many of the figurines that been hand crafted by traditional artisans. In certain towns it is possible to see a “living” Nativity scene, with real people and children dressed in costumes, acting out the traditional story.  I am told such an event takes place annually in the medieval hill towns of Maranola and Minturno and we are hoping to go and take a look this Christmas.

In their own homes families also strive to recreate their own nativity scenes, some more elaborate than others, and encourage their children to play their part in the family’s preparations for Christmas. Shops sell many of the essential crèche components to create a fanciful display.  These can range from the basics such as: cork, moss, bark and straw, to more extravagant additions such as snow capped mountains, caves, stables, bridges, lights and electrically driven streams and water-wheels.  Also there is a wide range of figurines on offer, Mary and St Joseph, glittering winged angels, lowly farmyard animals, traditional shepherds playing their pipes, people representing other common professions, and of course il bambino Gesù, to be laid in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve.  The exotic Magi are added to the display on the day of the Epiphany.  These figures range from decidedly tacky, mass produced, plastic specimens, to more tasteful, hand crafted statuettes.  Sometimes such nativity scenes are handed down through the family, from one generation to another.

I recall one year, many years ago, my aunt once sent over a parcel containing a basic crib, with an integral musical box.  It played the tune to the well loved Italian Christmas carol: “Tu scendi dalle stelle,  O re del Cielo,  E vieni in una grotta,  Al freddo e al gelo.” As a child I was transfixed by the enchanting scene and the delightful rhythmical tune.

My mother used to describe to us how my grandfather, or Nonno in Italian, used to create their special Nativity scene.  Being a skilled carpenter he constructed a splendid wooden crib and would work for many hours, painstakingly creating the display, with mountains made of cardboard and a night sky illuminated by tiny bulbs which ran off a battery.  He would use earth for the ground, and flour for the snow.  Then he would lovingly position the plaster statuettes of Our Lady, Joseph, the shepherds, kings, angels and animals to complete the scene.  Unfortunately one Christmas the poor family cat got somewhat confused and did a “whoopsie” in the middle of the scene !!! I am sure he would have paid for his error!   After this Nonno vowed never again to use real soil in the display.

Paul and I will be spending Christmas in Italy this year.

We would like to wish …..

Peace and goodwill to all men ( women and dogs !!!)

We hope that this year the true spirit of Christmas will enrich your lives.

We wish you  health, happiness and harmony for the coming New Year

Louise and Paul

and of course the “Woof-Gang”

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy