The bagpipers (Zampognari)
A delightful tradition, now finding renewal in Italy, is the ushering in of
the December festivities by the zampognari or bagpipers. They descend from
the mountains in the regions of Abruzzo and Calabria filling the air with
anticipation for the joyous celebration to come as they play adataptations
of old hill tunes such as Cantata dei Pastori.
In Rome they play at various
sites including the Christmas market at the historic Piazza Navona, at the
Spanish Steps, and at the entrance to St. Peter's Square.
Figures of the zampognari are very popular in nativity scenes and you can
find many representations of them in the creche shops in Naples
Christmas Eve is a time for viewing Italy's artistic and elaborate manger
scenes or presepe. They consist of figurines, in clay or plaster, of the
infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. An ox and ass are nearby because legend has
it that they warmed the child with their breath. It is around this basic
focal point that individual artisans create their own intricate landscapes.
There may be grottoes, small trees, lakes, rivers, the lights of "Bethlehem"
in the background, angels hung from wires, and occasionally, even local
heroes. The most beautiful Cribs are set up in churches, especially in
Naples. There is often a contest between churches of the same town for the
best Crib. People go from church to church to view and compare the Nativity