It’s Christmas Eve, the night Italians often celebrate the birthing of the little baby Jesus. This event is quite significant, especially if you are to judge by their crèche or manger scenes; something we Americans can only remember with nostalgia of days of yore.
But you see, Italians are nothing if not highly literal people; especially given their long history of language, discourse and oratory, starting with Latin and Lord knows what languages even before. And so it is with their manger scenes.
When I first came to Italy, I thought all those presepe showing an old Giuseppe and his young wife looking fondly down on a heap of hay; standard issue donkey, sheep and even the Three Kings in the distance, was simply yet another indication of Italians' poor planning: someone forgot the Baby Jesus!!!
After seeing this a few more times, I thought: 'Okay, someone’s stealing the Baby Jesus!!'
But then, I finally figured it out: although this is a country in which, despite their favorite pastime being not soccer, but deciphering the meaning between the lines, someone always warns you before any sort of irony or sarcasm is forthcoming. Article after article, conversation after conversation, they warn, just like the Robot in Lost in Space: “Danger! Guglielmo Robinson! Giovanni said, with a note of irony…” Here, unless forewarned, and if no hidden meaning is there, they take the sentence for what it is fully worth.
And so, little Baby Jesus never shows up on the manger scene until the stroke of midnight. Although you’ll always find him looking more like an 18 month old, than a cone-headed newborn, bright eyed and chubby on Christmas morn. I've just discovered that those three kings, though smaller in size, to represent distance, actually creep up day by day, until January 6th (the Epiphany, for you pagans out there) when they bestow their gifts on the Baby Jesus.
What I don’t get is -- why they don’t swap then, a very pregnant Mary for a less pregnant mamma (and perhaps decidedly exhausted one due to labor pains whilst riding a donkey) the next day, too. I guess they’re not that literal after all.
Buon Natale a Tutti!
F. Maggi (decidedly not Magi, like those three wise men!)