The living nativity scene of Equi Terme in Tuscany is one of Italy’s best events taking place during Christmas time. Dozens of real people in costume let visitors re-live the magical atmosphere of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Besides, a healthy stroll around a live nativity scene, Presepe Vivente in Italian, is a good idea to survive after the big feasts of Christmas and Boxing Day.
The village of Equi Terme
Equi Terme is a small village of Lunigiana, an area in northern Tuscany known for its mountains, medieval castles, and traditional food. Equi rises on the slopes of the Apuan Alps at the confluence of two creeks, the Fagli and the Lucido, and was an important center since the time of ancient Romans for its thermal baths.
Today, due to a recent earthquake, only a few people still live in the old center of Equi. Moreover, there are touristic attractions that make this off the beaten path destination interesting to visit. You find wild hot springs and a small wellness center. A Geoarcheopark to explore karst caves, and an archaeological site with rests of prehistoric animals. At the local museum, you can learn more about grottos and the ancient inhabitants of the area. And during Christmas time, the living nativity scene transforms the town center into a little Bethlehem.
Where is Equi Terme
Being in the middle of the Apuan Alps Natural Park, it takes a while to arrive in Equi Terme. Depending on where you are in Tuscany, you can use both the car and the train.
Driving a car is definitely the best way. Approximately it takes 1 hour from the coastal towns of Massa and Carrara, Viareggio, Pietrasanta, and Forte dei Marmi. Instead, you need one hour and a half if you come from Lucca or Pisa.
If you are in Lucca, you can also consider the idea of taking the train. There is a direct Regionale train that, crossing the Garfagnana area, takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. In this case, you should spend the night in Equi because the Nativity scene usually is in the late afternoon and night.
The itinerary of the nativity scene of Equi Terme
The small historical center and its narrow streets are the scenery of the living nativity scene of Equi Terme. There is a limited number of entrances at the same time due to security reasons and also to allow visitors to enjoy the show. So be patient, it may take a while to enter. We stayed in the queue for more than one hour due to a big turnout of people coming from the entire region. I could hear different Tuscan and Ligurian dialects while I was in the line.
Moreover, the presepe vivente is terrific, and was it worth waiting so long. You could interact with the characters in costume, ask them what they were representing, and about the tools they were working with.
Characteres of the nativity scene
Along the path, we met dozens of different characters and workshops. Blacksmiths, carpenters, woodworkers, sheep, and ponies. There were employees minting new coins. The potter was making ceramic creations to sell at the local art fair.
A baker was preparing fragrant fresh bread while other people in costume were roasting chestnuts. The innkeeper poured hot sweet wine for his visitors. Shepherds let you tasted fresh cheese while older women span the wool and cotton, weaving nets, and creating clogs.
There was also a fortune-teller and Edoardo could not resist asking her to read cards for him. I have to say that she guessed completely right.
There were also troops of Ancient Roman guards walking along the streets hunting for children to bring to Herod the Great. The King was sitting on the terrace in the highest point of the village with a view over the foggy valley. As the “Gospel according to Matthew” says about the Massacre of the Innocents, Herod was ready to kill every single kid to find baby Jesus.
The historical reenactment was so accurate, prepared with great attention to every detail. All those participants, their beautiful costumes and original tools will leave you pleasantly astonished. But the best was yet to come.
The Grotto of the nativity
Is there a better place than a real cave to host the ox, the little donkey, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus? I guess no. That’s why I think there is no better place than Equi Terme with its karst complex of grottos to host a nativity scene. The big cave is just outside of the village, along the creek. Cross the wooden bridge and you will be at the entrance.
Fortunately, fog and humidity did not obstruct the view. Actually, they create a suggestive and magic atmosphere in the area. It was quite cold outside and entering the grotto a pleasant and warm heat embraced us. The little Jesus was sleeping in Mary’s arms while Joseph sat on the other side of the crib.
The last scenery of the live nativity scene of Equi Terme was the camp of the falconry. We had the opportunity to get close and see a buzzard, a barn owl, and a lovely little tawny owl.
For further information here is the official website of the living nativity scene of Equi Terme: www.presepeviventeequi.com (Italian only).
Usually, the Nativity Scene of Equi Terme takes place during the Christmas holiday with the following timetable: December 23th and 24th | 08:30 PM – 11:30 PM December 25th and 26th | 06:00 PM – 09:00 PM.