CHRISTMAS IN POPULAR DEVOTION
was sung round the village, house after house, always the same minor tune, the words being different every day, so that in nine days the whole song was sung out. ... I often looked out of the window to see them at a short distance, grouped before a house, singing their stanzas, well muffled in shawls, for the air is cold in spite of the bright sunshine. . . . The flat, white houses all round, the pure sky overhead, gave an Oriental setting to the scene."
Another Christmas custom in the same place was the singing of a novena not outside but within some of the village houses before a kind of altar gaily decorated and bearing at the top a waxen image of the Child Jesus. " Close to it the orchestra was grouped—a 'cello, two violins, a guitar, and a tambourine. The kneeling women huddled in front of the altar. All had on their heads their black mantelline. They began at once singing the novena stanzas appointed for that day ; the tune was primitive and very odd : the first half of the stanza was quick and merry, the second half became a wailing dirge." A full translation of a long and very interesting and pathetic novena is given by Signora Caico.*63
The presepio both in Rome and at Naples is the special Christmas symbol in the home, just as the lighted tree is in Germany. In Rome the Piazza Navona is the great place for the sale of little clay figures of the holy persons. (Is there perchance a survival here of the sigillariay the little clay dolls sold in Rome at the Saturnalia ?) These are bought in the market for two soldi each, and the presepi or " Bethlehems" are made at home with cardboard and moss.64 The home-made presepi at Naples are well described by Matilde Serao ; they are pasteboard models of the landscape of Bethlehem—a hill with the sacred cave beneath it and two or three paths leading down to the grotto, a little tavern, a shepherd's hut, a few trees, sometimes a stream in glittering glass. The ground is made verdant with moss, and there is
* Turning for a moment from Sicilian domestic celebrations to a public and communal action, I may mention a strange ceremony that takes place at Messina in the dead of night ; at two o'clock on Christmas morning a naked Bambino is carried in procession from the church of Santa Lucia to the cathedral and back.65