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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2016 www.italoamericano.org 3 ic Faith, decided it was impor- tant to "see with the eyes of our body" the moment of Jesus' birth, a sign of His descent among Mankind: on that holy night of 800 years ago, there were no statues and no fancy lights, only a donkey and an ox, as the apocryphal gospels say there were, to warm Jesus on the night of His birth, and an altar upon which Francis celebrated mass. This was, in all its stark simplicity and beautiful spiritual- ity, the first nativity scene in the world. Francis was to celebrate Christmas mass in Greccio also the following year, in 1224: this time, however, there was a real Presepe ready for him. Local artist Giovanni Vellita had creat- ed, upon the saint's own request, a sculpture of the holy family, the first Presepe's statues. Francis died only three years later, in 1226, and was canonized in 1228. His Christmas represen- tation in Greccio became quite popular thanks to his Friars, who told the people of Italy about the holy pauper of Assisi and those first Presepi. The idea of associ- ating Christmas festivities with a nativity scene is, today as it was in the past, the strongest embodi- ment of a real Italian Christmas. Art, too, made the ties between Italy and Christmas strong. Throughout the centuries, the imagery of Jesus' birth has filled the mind and inspired the hand on countless artists who gave shape, form and color to the heart of Christian belief in their works. In fact, the nativity was already a popular subject for artists in Rome in the 4th centu- ry, just around the time Furius Dionisius Filocalus wrote about Christmas in his work. It was, however, with the coming of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that Italian art fully took into its – very talented – hands the representation of the birth of Christ, turning it into one of the most iconic images in the world. Among the most recog- nizable are Andrea Mantegna's Adorazione dei Pastori, painted around 1450, Filippo Lippi's Adorazione del Bambino di San Vincenzo Ferrer, created roughly around the same period, the Natività Mistica of Sandro Botticelli, elegant and ethereal (1501), Tiziano's vibrant Sacra Famiglia con un Pastore (1510) and Caravaggio's fiery Natività, created in 1609. Christmas and Italy: a link as old as Christianity itself, which runs deep underneath the surface of western culture and heritage. Christmas and Italy: a spiritual love that produced touching art and heart warming traditions. Christmas and Italy: a pair that – it is known, even if I did It is thanks to Saint Francis of Assisi that one of the most popular representations, that of the traditional nativity - which we call Presepe or Presepio in Italy - came to be LOS ANGELES ITALIAN COMMUNITY An Italian Christmas: Origins and Traditions not mention it today – inspired some of the most delicious culi- nary delicacies in the world. In the end, who can resist a slice of pandoro or panettone this time of the year? Just this time, while you are enjoying their soft and buttery goodness, have a thought also about all the history the 25th of December and Il Bel Paese have been for the past 2000 years. Continued from page 2

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