Babbo Natale is coming to town


I swear I’m not a Grinch. But the “Christmas Spirit” has been a bit elusive for me of late. But I caught a glimpse of it tonight in Il Centro in Tolentino. We knew there was some sort of festa going on, and that it had something to do with Christmas.


Did not know it was “Cioccaloto Natale,” or “Chocolate Christmas.” About 20 booths each had their own special hand made chocolates. A video screen carried an Italian game show, which transfixed many in the crowd (go figure). Kids and families were everywhere. Tolentino has planted a Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza—I mean really planted it. They built up a huge pile of earth, covered it with real grass and shrubs and put a 15 meter tall tree in the center of it all. Really pretty.


We wandered around and sampled a few of the chocolate booths. Our friend Stephano Belfiore, the furniture craftsman, recognized us and called us over to the booth his family and friends ran. It’s nice to be able to say “I know that guy” after spending a few weeks here.


Their specialty was chocolate covered chestnuts (you can see them roasting chestnuts here over an open fire). Oh, dear God. With the hot mulled wine (vin brule) we bought from another booth… yes, it warmed our cockles. I didn’t see Babbo Natale—the Italian Santa Claus—but I did see an Emmet Kelly lookalike clown on break—he was having a vino cotto with a very stylish Italian couple.


From Tolentino we went to Ripo San Ginesio, where we had heard of another Christmas festival, the Presepio. We actually got there just as it was closing up, but the first person we saw really wanted us to see it, so he let us in (and didn’t charge us the 4Euro per head entry). We learned that the Presepio is a collection and competition of Nativity scenes.


When I first realized that, I was ready to go get some more vin brule. But this tiny medieval town had blocked off their tiny streets and alleyways and set up 17 different hand-made Nativity scenes throughout the town.


It was really pretty amazing. The intricately crafted designs ranged from a huge sand sculpture to more modest desk-tip sized displays. Each showed incredible workmanship and detail that was just mind-boggling. And since it had officially closed, we three were free to roam the tiny village alone. Really glad we did.


(This one was made entirely of wheat)

Earlier, at Tolentino, I gazed up at the town’s official Christmas tree, saw the happy, bundled-up families wandering about giddily, and looked around at what we Americans would call a small-town affair. The thing that got me is that it’s not commercialized– nor was Ripe San Ginesio. It’s very subtle and sweet and real and beautiful. The way Christmas ought to be. That’s when I caught my glimpse. So I sidled up to my sister and our friend Bob and thought “we need a picture.” Enjoy.


I did.



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