Lights, Penguins and Baby Jesuses

Perugia's Fontana Maggiore with the city's brightest Christmas tree

Perugia’s Fontana Maggiore with some holiday lights

We don’t have a Christmas tree (or any decorations for that matter).  The only sign of December inside our apartment is the freezing cold.  We bought two more blankets yesterday.

Lavendar. It was the last color in stock

Lavendar. It was the last color in stock.

But outside it’s so beautiful.  Every street in downtown Perugia is illuminated with big hanging lights.  Even on the most rainy and windy nights, we make time to take a walk.  It feels so festive and winter-wonderlandy.

A view down Corso Vanucci

A view down Corso Vanucci

One of the things I love most about Italy in December are the nativity scenes.  They are everywhere.  All the churches have one.  Many of the stores too.  Even the banks.  There seems to be no limit to how grand, gaudy, quirky, confusing, unique, extravagant, or detailed these displays are.

Tonight, Ray and I walked down to Sant’ Antonio Church to see for ourselves what Perugians call the best nativity scene in the city.  It was kind of a long walk from our apartment.  But as soon as we entered the back room of this church and saw the extravagant display, my throat constricted and I kind of felt like crying.  The nativity village was animated with sounds of thunder clapping, a fire crackling, a baby crying, and soft lullabies – all the sounds you might expect from that legendary night.  Then after several minutes, everything changed.  A rooster crowed and the “sun” rose.  The entire scene changed from night to day.  Many of the tiny figurines came to life.  A woman started baking bread.  A man cast a fishing line into the river.  And two friends started playing cards.  Ray and I stayed for three or four “days” continually finding more hidden details in the scene.

A small corner of the city's largest nativity scene at Sant' Antonio Abbate

A small, but important, corner of the nativity scene at Sant’ Antonio Abbate

A game of poker occurring simultaneously with the birth of Baby Jesus.

A game of poker occurring simultaneously with the birth of Baby Jesus.  (The arms of these figures move!)

A woman baking bread in an oven that really flickered.

A woman baking bread in an oven with flames that really flicker.

As we left, the attendant thanked us for coming and encouraged us to return when the snow machine is working and the village gets a blizzard.

Another hallmark of a Perugian Christmas are the penguins that line the street on Via dei Priori.   These penguins are all designed on cardboard.  They stand alone or nestled in groups among window displays.  This “Invasion of Penguins” is based on a story about Perugia where all the citizens disappear as penguins fill the streets.  It’s cute and kind of fun to look for hidden penguins.  But today I talked with a shopkeeper on Via dei Priori who admitted to not liking the story because of its subtle racist undertones.  So I picked up a copy of the story to try and figure out what he’s talking about.  I’ll let you know.

A few penguins at the bookstore.

A few penguins at the bookstore.

Another in the middle of Bar Accademia Pasticeria

Another in the middle of Bar Pasticceria Accademia

While our family is bringing very few holiday decorations and fanfare to the season, we are really looking forward to December 25.  However, it feels like Christmas will officially start this weekend when my aunt and uncle arrive followed by Matt’s sister and brother-in-law.  We are planning big Italian feasts, dreamy winter walks and tours of the nativity decorations.

(This is a photo of one of my favorite people in the world.  It was taken several years ago when we celebrated Christmas together.  I can’t wait till she gets here on Saturday!)

(This is a photo of one of my favorite people in the world. It was taken several years ago when we celebrated Christmas together. I can’t wait till she gets here on Saturday!)

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10 thoughts on “Lights, Penguins and Baby Jesuses

  1. Deanne!! hahaha. Nice way to wake up this morning.
    What a wonderful visit you’ll have. Bring them a HUG from me.
    Love you guys!

    Fascinating Nativity. Keep us posted on the penquin story.

  2. Jill, I did not believe you could make me live Italy any better until this blog! With tears in my eyes (happy tears) from the Nativity scene and then a picture of my very favorite person in the whole world at the end you have BESTED (new word) yourself!
    Thank you for sharing your year in Perugia with all of us.
    Karen

  3. What a wonderful way to spend an evening. That may be the best Nativity Scene in all of Italy. Tom and Heidi will love it. Each of your blogs “captures” my interest. Not sure our almost 3 week visit will be enough time. Keep us posted on the Penguins. Love, Grandpa John

  4. At first when I saw the second picture of the nativity scene I thought that it was real people and I said to my self how could that be? But then I realized it was a part of the nativity scene.

  5. A little Deanne happiness on a sad day here in the U.S. is a very good thing. Don’t they have infrared heaters in Italy?

  6. Jill, you never fail to amaze me with your “finds”. The nativity scene looks amazing in the pictures, I can only imagine how it looks with the animation and a blizzard?!!! The street lights are beautiful. I was in McMinnville to watch Matt’s kids’ Christmas program and after we went out to dinner. On the street where the resturant was there was an amazing display of lights. There were trees on both sides of the street that met in the middle, covered in the small white lights and then every so often there would be a swag of multi colored lights acrosss the street. It was beautiful and who knew it was tucked away in a small town not far away! Enjoy your company and have a Blessed Christmas Italian style! Love to all of you!

  7. I suggest that at the end of your year, in one of your last blogs, you resolve all the little cultural mysteries that have come up all year. Like, why is 17 unlucky? Why are penguins racists? Etc. That would be a fun blog, if those mysteries are in fact resolvable. After some thought, I realized I have no idea why we think 13 is unlucky – I may have to use precious nap time to investigate. Happy Nativity Scene watching to you and yours…

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