The town of Tricase, almost at the tip of the Italian heel in Puglia, is often called “The Bethlehem of Italy.” That’s because it hosts a living nativity or Il Presepe Vivente di Tricase. Supported entirely by volunteers from civic groups and schools, everyone from children to grown-ups (about 250 residents in total) dress in period costumes that transform the town into a nativity pageant. The tradition was started in 1976 by resident Andrea Rizzo. This free Christmas event is usually scheduled for December 25, 26, 27 and January 1, 4 and 6.
Fòcara in Novoli, a small town near Lecce, honors the town’s patron, Sant’Antonio Abate, on the eve of his feast day January 17. The origin of the fire ritual is said to date back at least 1,000 years and is credited to monks from the east who settled in Novoli. The fòcara is a bonfire constructed of olive branches and grape vines in Piazza Tito Schipa. Using a huge ladder to pile the branches on top, the fire builders make a “mountain” as high as a three-story house. Thousands of pilgrims walk from nearby towns to honor the saint. In addition to the bonfire, there are masses, religious processions, food, wine, and musical events. — Sharon Sanders
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