Early December, it’s time for every home in Porto to have a Christmas tree and hopefully a Presépio, traditionally, a Nativity scene with clay figurines.
The best places to check out this kind of representations is in churches, and we have quite a few.
The first Presépio was created by Saint Francis in Greccio, Italy in 1223, with real people and animals. The idea spread really quick and, soon, rich families started buying representations created by artists. In Portugal, they were widespread, already in the 16th Century and, during the Baroque period, artists like Machado de Castro created amazing objects. In Porto you can find one in Igreja das Taipas, on the Museum, another one in Igreja de S. Nicolau and a third one, authorship yet to be confirmed, in Igreja dos Grilos.
I could be here describing what a Presépio is, but I think it’s easier to look at the pictures and check it out. The best thing I can do right now is to tell you what you need to build one.
For a basic Presépio you will need clay figurines, some wood, to build a shed and moss (yes, Moss!). Until December 24th, you will need Mary and Joseph, a Cow, a Donkey and baby Jesus bed. On the 25th, baby Jesus is born, so you will need him too; and on January 6 the three wise man or kings, which bring the presents to Jesus.
Sheep are also very popular, together with shepherds due to this passage in the Bible (Luke 2:8-12) «And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David (Bethelem) a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.»
A star is also a must, showing the way to the three Wise Men or Kings (Matthew 2:9-12) «After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.» This is the reason why we exchange presents in Christmas.
Houses, rivers, mountains, soldiers, everything can be in a Presépio, just use your imagination.
If you are wondering, moss is to simulate grass.
Mercado do Bolhão – Mon to Fri: 07:00-17:00; Sat: 07:00-13:00; Sun: Closed.
Casa Museu Guerra Junqueiro – Mon to Sat 10:00-17:30; Sun 10:00-12:30 (last admission 12:00) and 14:00-17:30 (last admission 17:00) Holidays: Closed.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – Mon: 15:00-18:30; Tue-Sat: 9:00-12:00 and 15:00-18:30; Sun: 9:00-13:00 and 18:00-20:00.
Igreja do Carmo – Mon Wed: 8:00-12:00 and 13:00-18:00; Tue Thu: 09:00-18:00; Fri 09:00-17:30; Sat 09:00-16:00; Sun 09:00-13:30.
Igreja dos Grilos AKA Igreja de S. Lourenço AKA Museu de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia – Tue to Sat: 10:00-13:00 and 14:30-17:00 Sun and Mon: closed.