The rugged coast of the Cinque Terre is popular with hikers who love to walk from town to town in along this magical coastline in Northern Italy. Most think of Cinque Terra as a summertime destination, but it might be worth a visit during Christmastime for an unusual way to spend your Natale.
If you decide to go to Cinque Terre during the holidays, consider that most restaurants and hotels are seasonal. Rent a small apartment and live like the locals do during the Christmas season and you'll discover something very different indeed...
Presepe of Manarola
For instance, you will find the world's largest presepe (nativity display) in Manarola, clinging to one of the craggy hilltops overlooking the sea. Every year on December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the beginning of the Christmas season in Italy) the lights are flipped on and thousands gathered in the village cheer for this wonderful illumination. The evening is topped off by fireworks. The lights stay well into January or February (in the typical Italian style of timekeeping).
Mario Andreoli, a retired railway worker, started building the presepe in 1976 and has spent the decades covering the entire hilltop with illuminated shaped figures. In 2007 his creation was declared the largest nativity in the world by Guinness World Records. It has 6 miles of electric cables, 15,000 bulbs, 300 life sized figures, mostly made from recycled junk. It also went off the grid in 2008 with the addition of a dedicated solar powered electric system.
Christmas Star and Baby Jesus Born from the Sea in San Terenzo
Ok, now this one is really something different. In the beach town of San Terenzo (a well known scuba diving destination) every Christmas Eve, just before midnight, you will see a light glowing beyond the smoke bombs on the beach in the surf.... it's the Christmas Star emerging from the water! You will then also see a bevy of wetsuit-clad Magi greeting the star... and then a huge clam shell pops out of the water, opening up to reveal the newborn Baby Jesus, which the "Magi" carry ceremoniously toward the spectators.
The "beach people" chant the Prayer for the Diver (they have prayers for everything in Italy) just before carrying the Infant Jesus and his clam shell crib to the Church in preparation to Christmas’s Holy Midnight Mass. In every corner and street of San Terenzo, lights and decorations add to the magic and folklore, and thousands of candles shine bright in the streets. Only in Italy!