Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Veneto - Community Christmas Traditions

Venice is the capital city of the Italian Region "The Veneto" which extends from the Adriatic Sea to the lower slopes of the Dolomite Mountains.  We enjoyed our 3 day stay with friends, the Feletto family, in Conegliano.  The Feast of Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas) was still a couple of days ahead so many Christmas decorations and presentations were still on display.

Our introduction to the tradition of "Presepe" began in the parish church of "Maria di Fatima".  Individual churches, or indeed whole villages as we would soon see, prepare "nativity scenes" translating the story of Christ's birth into a local setting, or using unusual materials to make an imaginative scene.  There is intense competition between towns and parishes.

"Presepe" of the City of Conegliano (a scene of about 3 square metres)
Town folk go about their business, oblivious to the arrival of the Holy Family.
The Holy Family arrive at the coastal village like refugees on a raft
The miller works at his mill, grinding grain.
Il Molinetto della Croda
The Molinetto is a 17th century water mill which was used to grind corn until 1953 when it was abandoned.  The mill was purchased by the local Council and revived as a museum, complete with a working millstone.  It hosted a "presepe" which attracted many small scenes prepared very imaginatively  from a variety of materials.  It is built on bedrock beside a small stream in the Lierza valley, about 10km north-west of Conegliano.

The old corn mill beside the stream
Ears of corn used as Christmas decorations
The restored milling mechanism still grinds corn to produce corn flour.
Freshly ground corn flour

An imaginative and thought provoking nativity scene
A scene built within a lantern.

Scene built within a recessed frame

A typical farm house of this region with family living areas,
storage rooms and barns for the animals in winter.
Each window showed an aspect of rural life (next image)
Through the small window of the farmhouse.
Another rural scene

This nativity is set in a model of Il Molinetto itself.

On the next day we set off again for a drive through the hills to the north-west of Conegliano.  Despite the cold and the occasional light rain vignerons and farmers were pruning their vines.  Although some red varieties are grown, this area predominantly produces grapes for the local specialty of Prosecco wine which may be "tranquilo" (still) or "frizzante" (semi-sparkling; well known in Australia).  Nowadays the name "Prosecco" is often reserved for the wine itself and the grape from which it comes is called "Glera" but some lesser percentages of other varieties can be added.

About 15 km from Conegliano is the small farming town of Mura.  Its residents take the "presepe" competition seriously.  Away from the main road was the "presepe" trail which took us past dozens of scenes from many types of local materials.  Some folk have a great deal more artistic imagination and craft abilities than I have.

The main street of the small town of Mura in the Veneto, Italy.

If not for the electricity cables and TV antenna
 this could be a scene from centuries ago.

With icy winds and snow lying about, this hardly seemed
 to be a good place to try to grow what appeared
to be a banana plant.  The plant obviously agreed.
Hand knitted nativity scene.

Small figures set amongst the rocks in the garden.

The figures have been placed inside this hollow in the
tree trunk.  (see next image for a closer look)

Figures in a bucket

Figures in a wicker basket.
Now that's what I call a real wooden star

Street side nativity (see below for detail)

Amongst the wine flasks and barrels at the wine press.

Nestled against the large curved pumpkin.

A lot of dedicated effort went into preparing for these two ornaments - but I'm sure it was enjoyable.  The modern metal caps frequently used these days for wine bottles wouldn't have quite the same effect.

From Mura we went on to the small town of Cambai for lunch, but that is outside of the theme of this Blog page.

As we had been driving around the country side we had seen many stacks of trees, waste wood and old building timbers.  These were for another tradition with ancient roots.  In centuries past it was a celebration on January 5th to mark the Winter Solstice after which the days would begin to lengthen.  Traditionally an effigy of an old woman was burned on the fire - once the old woman (representing the year) had gone the new year could come in.  Now it is a community activity celebrated with a bonfire.  Food (and not just bread or special festive loaves) is eaten and wine drunk as people watch the flames from the bonfire light up the sky.  Traditionally the direction of the smoke and embers predicted how well the next season's crops would fare.

Watching the bonfire

His first "sparkler"

Judy some of the Feletto family watching the fire.
Lorella, Egidia and Ludovico and children.

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