Christmas in Abruzzo wouldn’t be complete without at least some flirtation with the underpinning Christian tradition. Cerqueto, located off the SS80 near Pietracamela and Fano Adriano, provided us with an outstanding opportunity to briefly access the true festive spirit, thanks to its awe-inspiring “living nativity”, or Presepe Vivente (Christmas Crib).
Cerqueto is a small town in the valley along the almost forgotten route of the Strada Maestra that links Montorio with ancient Amiternum; for the last 49 years Cerqueto has put on a living nativity, entertaining the locals from throughout the Teramo province (and possibly farther afield). This year, our first visit, we meandered our way from Bascianella to Cerqueto, via the various twisty mountain roads, to arrive at Cerqueto at about 6.20pm. The Presepe Vivente was announced as commencing at 6.30pm, and there were hundreds of cars parked now in the streets around and leading up to the small town. With virtually no expectations we welcomed the warming scents of the local national park sausages, fried local specialities and red wine blowing on the cool evening breeze throughout the town and made our way to the congregated masses.
The town fronts onto a wooded hill-side along with cascading waterfall, into which have been set various wood pathways and terraces; it is this hill that acts as stage for Cerqueto’s performance of the living nativity this Christmas. A gently sloping road is where most of the audience, the old, the very young & everything inbetween, wait sampling their warm food, many with red wine.
The performance commenced at about 6.50pm, with,surprisingly, a rendition of William Blake’s The Tyger, a version recorded apparently by Tangerine Dream, with visuals alongside Italian translations projected onto a large white screen near the foot of the hillside, impressive audio pumped through concealed speakers. Once this intriguing deviation from the expected was over, it was almost time for the nativity.
This began with an actor playing the role of God, up high near the summit of the hill, on a platform. A beautiful star-studded sky meant that there was a chilliness settling over the hillside, and this unfortunate thespian seemingly had to wait up high on this platform through the hour-long performance, kicking off with a rendition of part of the Old Testament, Adam & Eve it, through to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, onto the story of Cain & Able. All done to classical or more modern musical scores, booming Italian narration, pyrotechnics and glowing lights through billowing dry ice; Spectacular! However, fortunately skipping the rest of the Pentateuch, Prophets & Apocrypha and onto the reason everyone was there, the nativity.
The Presepe Vivente organically integrated purpose-made buildings including the manger and sheep pen, to great effect. There were angels clad in crimson, shepherds, Mary & Jospeh naturally, three wise guys, Romans, with plenty of ancillaries, only the actual baby Jesus seemed to be missing. The players, including “Romans” on horseback, played across the hill, creating a panoramic theatre; the manger was composed like a near static set-piece, very similar to the effect given by the carved or otherwise visually represented Nativity scenes one sees, such as the carved one in nearby Tossicia. The primary characters were very stationary while the others milled around them; and there was even a shooting star with sprays of sparks creating its cosmic trail.
The music and narration throughout were amazing, including wild horse-rides to the William Tell Overture, and several other well-known pieces whose name escapes me… At almost an hour & a half all in with the Blake piece it was possibly a bit optimistic to expect the younger generations to maintain interest throughout, and it was a wee bit chilly towards the end, increasing my sympathy for the thespians’ presumably freezing extremities. A great night out that will provide an unforgottable experience if you spend Christmas here.
Held on: 26th December annually weather permitting – if the weather is bad then the event is held on the next good day.
Official Website: Cerqueto.net