Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry Nov. 2004

Is It Already Christmas?

It's hard to believe that it's that time of year again. That's because it's NOT! It's only November 16. Think of all the great November 16 celebrations we used to have before they started pushing holidays around just to make more money. I don't know about you, but I distinctly remember November 16 as the day when we used to celebrate the birth of the Emperor Tiberius. It is also the birthday of W.C. Handy, and who doesn't remember —with a brisk November evening blowing outside— sitting before the warm hearth and singing the St. Louis Blues?

In any event, the main Christmas street in Naples is via San Gregorio Armeno (photo, left), and it is now up and open for business weeks before the holiday. It is 75 uphill yards of Christmas trinkets, knick-knacks, gew-gaws and gim-crackery (with some paraphernalia thrown in). Most of the stuff that people buy is meant to fit into the traditional wherewithal for the Neapolitan manger scene, the creche, called presepe in Italian. Thus, one buys small figurines of the Holy Family, the Christ Child, the Three Wise Men, various shepherds and livestock, and a galaxy of stars of Bethlehem. Many families, of course, already have a handed-down presepe perhaps over generations and are very picky about the items they add to the scene; a finely wrought ceramic and wooden angel, fine, but a plastic Christ Child made in China, no. You can also pick up new slabs of cork (harvested from woods on the island of Sardinia) if you are of a mind to resculpt the entire tableau from scratch.

The pedestrian traffic on via San Gregorio Armeno is already impressive. You can, however, still lollygag up and down the street. A few weeks from now, ultimate pedestrian gridlock will be reached and you will stand in place and simply wait for Next Christmas to roll around and hope that someone feeds you occasionally. Ideally, just before that frozen moment is reached, there are a few days of slow, tectonic-like movement when you can wedge yourself into a knot of fellow travellers, lift your feet up off the ground and simply be carried along as if you were on one of those rolling walkways at airports. Last year, the city toyed with the idea of making via San Gregorio Armeno a one-way street for pedestrians at this time of year. This, in a city where you can't even get motorists to obey one-way traffic signs.

The globalization of the holiday is total. At the top of the street, near the intersection of via dei Tribunale, there is a woman hawking her wares to a recording of "Jingle Bells" that makes one nostalgic for the dulcet euphony of any ten cell-phones going off at once. The stooped old crone, the Befana, who rewards children on the day of the Epiphany (Jan. 6), is now depicted flying around on a broomstick, something that never would have occurred to anyone here before Halloween was imported. Pictures of Santa Claus abound, as do Christmas trees, neither of which are part of the traditional Neapolitan Christmas. Can you imagine a small figurine of Bing Crosby as the fourth Wise Man, singing White Christmas? Did I just make that up? Don't bet on it.

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