It is Vigilia, Christmas eve, and, in every shop and bar, people are exchanging ‘tanti auguri’. At the panificio, there is a plate of pastries on offer for customers waiting for the next batch of bread to come out of the oven, and for cakes to be wrapped. The butcher prepares a capon for me – a Christmas day speciality around here. The Christmas eve meal, on the other hand, is ‘di magro’, without meat, and with sweets consisting of dried fruit and nuts. For this meal, he has a vegetarian lasagna on offer.
This year, the people of Anghiari have made an ‘itinerary’ of presepi (nativities) all around the old town. You can see the thought and effort that has gone into this, and, I understand, they’ve had fun doing it. Each presepe represents an occupation: the spinner, the carpenter, the shoemaker, the greengrocer, the baker, the washerwoman, the kitchen garden brothers and so on. Some are located close to the real thing, (Letizia, for example helped make ‘the greengrocer’ and provided the fruit and vegetables); others have no actual point of reference. The shepherds and the magi are included in the itinerary. In the case of the shepherds, of which there are two examples, there is some ambiguity as to referent given all the sheep around here. On the day after Christmas there is to be a lights show of the itinerary at nightfall, presumably with baby jesus now in the currently empty cribs. Of course, every church also has its own presepe, as do many shops. While they all have a setting of Tuscan life, this year the one in the main church is set in an earthquake struck town, amongst rubble and ruined houses.
As evening falls, festivities begin in the piazza – everyone is waiting for the annual tradition of babbi natali (Fathers Christmas) arriving from the top of the hill on vespers. A few doors down from where I’m staying, a young man arrives on a vesper, rushes into an apartment, and reappears five minutes later as a father christmas. Walking down the street and through the piazza, I pass 3 barber shops busy with men having haircuts and shaves. People, mostly families with children, are descending upon the piazza from all directions. Traffic is being redirected. There is a brass band playing carols and bits of ‘the messiah’. The piazza is filling up and everyone is having fun. There is an announcement about presents for ‘our children’, who promptly head off towards a long table laden with what is obviously books! Then the moment comes: with much excitement, here come the babbi natali tooting their horns down the street. What a wonderful sense of shared enjoyment there is in this place.
I am greeted by Vilma from the tutto shop, who is there with her grandson, on a Christmas break from the hotel school in Caprese Michelangelo. She wants to confirm that her daughter, Simona, will collect us at 9.40 in the morning, to drive us to Il Carmine for a mass. The family live in the old monastery attached to this 16th century church, located 4kms out of Anghiari. These arrangements were made when I enquired in the shop this morning about Christmas services at the church. Vilma had immediately made the offer of someone from the family coming to collect us. So, a domani!