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.
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
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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