The ‘Grande Presepe della Civiltà Contadina’ is a life-size Christmas nativity scene celebrating the great agricultural traditions of the past. The nativity scene was created thanks to the imagination and enthusiasm of a group of local volunteers and can be found in the residential area of Sabbioni to the west of Crema, on the corner of Via Rossi Martini and Via Caprotti. Visitors are welcome from Christmas Eve until the end of January.
The Sabbioni parish is still run by Capuchin Friars today and the Franciscan tradition has favoured the incredible development of this really unique initiative. What began as a simple competition of Christmas decorations has become the nativity scene which today covers an outdoor area of about 3000m2 and has had more than 30,000 visitors to date.
It is an extremely accurate reconstruction of life in the farming world in the first half of the twentieth century in the rural villages of Crema and its surrounding area. Almost 300 life-size models of humans and animals carved in wood and plaster are displayed in different settings. The models show a remarkable attention to detail and the passion of the volunteers who made them.
Thanks to the untiring research and patience of the organizers a considerable collection of traditional tools and utensils of the period has been amassed and together with an accurate study of customs and traditions, they have succeeded in bringing to life an atmosphere of Christmas past with a clear call to collective memory of the poverty and simplicity of the lives of past generations. Visitors can experience the lost emotions of the’ move’ on the day of San Martino, November 11th when farm workers traditionally moved to a new job and a new house, the past scenes of itinerant workers such as chimney sweeps and tinsmiths, basket makers and knife grinders, ‘menalatte’ who transported milk, laundresses and carters and even bear tamers.
You can breathe the air of craft workshops; the blacksmith, the carpenter, the saddler and the grocer are all at work, absorbed in their daily tasks, which in today’s world can almost appear extraordinary. The mill with its heavy millstone, the stables housing various animals, the school with the teacher and children, the communal oven, the ‘ruota degli esposti’ a hatch where abandoned babies could be left, all constitute small pieces of history and make up the mosaic of a past identity.
A crowd of figures surrounds the focal point of the nativity scene, consisting of a stable in a cave, which attracts the attention for its spectacular staging. The light reflected from the pale winter sun and the night shadows brightened by the flames of the fires all come together to produce a magical atmosphere. The visitor is taken on a fascinating journey, rediscovering memories along the way.
This extraordinary, openair, ethnographic museum naturally favours an educational aspect. The exhibits climb out of their forced anonymity and are brought back into their original context, retrieving the specific purposes which they were initially intended for. The educational approach is of particular interest to the nativity scene’s youngest visitors and in this way memories can be passed on to the next generations.
Entrance is free and visitors are offered mulled wine with cloves and cinnamon to warm against the cold of the season.