I think Sicily produces the only nativity play in the world which features live belly dancers.
It happens in the town of Termini Imerese, on Sicily’s north coast, which produces a nativity play each year which fills the entire town.
The historic town centre is closed off and becomes the stage for a dramatic production which the audience follows on foot, led from scene to scene by their narrator. Obviously this involves vast sacrifice on the part of the many families who live there.
These photos were taken last Christmas. All the actors are local people, and nobody is paid for their participation. They spend months rehearsing. A small amount of money is charged per person, and the money is given to charity.
The story begins with the resurrection, and then goes back in time to tell the story of Jesus from the beginning.
This shows Mary and Joseph getting married, despite the fact that Joseph knows Mary is already pregnant. The Jewish wedding was quite accurate, I think.
There were lots of scenes showing the brutal treatment of the Hebrews at the hands of the Romans. Sicily was conquered by the Romans and treated brutally, too; they really went to town on this part. They created so much movement and chaos and noise that I had a major adrenaline rush!
I didn’t manage to take any good photos of the Roman soldiers dashing through the crowd beating the citizens in the Israeli market. It was all so fast!
Mary and Joseph were arrested and taken into the Roman fortress. All they could do was pray.
To reach the next scene, we walked along an entire street of artisans working. We saw weavers, stone masons, potters, tanners, carpenters and metal workers.
Eventually we reached the court of King Herod, filled with scenes of debauchery, gluttony and lust. Our guide was a trained lay preacher and I think this was what gave her so much passion and made her narrative so powerful. The people of Termini Imerese had put a lot of historical research into their production and she told us a lot of history beyond the bible story.
At last you get to see these famous belly dancers! They were in the decadent court of corrupt King Herod. Herod’s African bodyguards (he really did have them, and they were famous for their ferocity) were played by refugees from Africa who are friends with one of the play’s organisers.
Then we saw the money lenders outside the synagogue. The synagogue was an abandoned early medieval church, from the 12th century I believe. It no longer has a roof and somehow this added to making it a spectacular setting.
Mary and Joseph walked from inn to inn, begging for a room. We followed them, watching citizens eat dinner outside their houses, or calling out from their upstairs windows that they were full.
Eventually the holy family reached an outdoor encampment, and were allowed to spend the night in the stable. Our narrator led the group in a prayer while Mary gave birth.
The three wise men brought him gifts, and the donkey brayed just at the right moment! It wanted more oranges.
I wish all my readers a peaceful and happy Christmas.