A couple of weeks ago, as Thanksgiving had just given way to the Christmas season, my friend Anna organized a girls’ trip to Caltigirone, home of Sicilian ceramics. The last time I visited was almost two years ago, and I was excited for another chance to browse through endless tiny shops filled with blue and yellow pottery, wander up and down the tiled stairs at the heart of the mountain town, and spend a morning with my friends without all of our little kids!
(On that note: a big thank you to Elliott and Greg for taking on all the children after Anna and I had spent the rest of the weekend selling at craft fairs!)
Anna had more plans than just ceramics shopping, though. She invited us all to experience the Sicilian tradition of presepe, or nativities. Every year many Sicilian towns set up nativities of all shapes, sizes, and designs in empty garages, cavernous back rooms, and tiny doorways off little side streets. We bought a pass to see 5 different presepi, which we presented before stepping behind heavy velvet curtains to see each scene.
This presepe was totally life-sized and set up in a cave-like room. The figures all moved, the cow lowed, the donkey brayed, and a soft God-like voice overhead recited the Christmas story in Italian.
A scene from a massive and incredibly detailed presepe that stretched on and on for at least 100 feet!
On the left a 5-inch-high shepherd reads Scripture surrounded by tiny sheep; on the right Cinderella, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs make their way towards a Disney-free stable off to the side.
This one was wild. Smurfs, Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, and the Simpson family gathered around a miniscule little nativity scene inside one of Super Mario’s mushrooms!
My favorite presepe was made entirely of pasta. Even the “hay” on the ground is crushed green pasta!
… and the “inn” to the side of the nativity scene is built out of crostini, tiny crisp toasts that Italians often eat for breakfast. So clever!
There was even a miniature Caltigirone scene inside one presepe, complete with the famous tiled steps of the town and a tiny Padre Pio (well-loved Italian priest) blessing tourists and townspeople alike.
Our presepi touring finished, we wandered through rainy Caltigirone, dipping into ceramics shops as they caught our fancy. Even in the bleak winter weather, Caltigirone is a beautiful town.
The famous tiled steps of Caltigirone. The buildings on either side are filled with ceramics shops, a delicious restaurant, and people’s homes.
Ceramics! I especially liked this pattern. It looks very much like Polish pottery, which is my first love.
A Christmas tree-shaped candle-holder and a beautiful artist at work.
Scenes in Caltigirone.
The canisters above demonstrate some of the larger brushstrokes used in a lot of Sicilian ceramics. Not as much my style, but very typical of the region and beautifully bright in their hand-painted colors and designs.
And finally, a pocket-sized Fiat cinquecento or scooter to take home with you!