(ANSA) – Rome, December 23 – A bloody-faced Silvio Berlusconi, Pope Benedict XVI with his arm in a sling and pop star Michael Jackson are among the crop of nativity scene figurines on sale in Naples this year as Italy once again goes crib crazy.
The premier has provided special inspiration for the Naples craftsmen who each year create models of celebrities and politicians that have made the headlines alongside more traditional statuettes such as Mary, Joseph and the wise men.
Shoppers can pick up a gory model of Berlusconi with blood dripping onto his suit lapels – marking the occasion when he was hit in the face at a political rally in Milan earlier this month – as well as figurines of a trinity of women who have helped fuel scandals involving the premier this year.
On sale are statuettes of escort girl Patrizia D’Addario, who claimed to have been paid to have sex with Berlusconi, Naples schoolgirl Noemi Letizia, whose friendship with the premier caused his wife Veronica Lario to accuse him of consorting with minors and ask for a divorce, and Lario herself.
A model of the pope commemorates the tumble he took while on holiday this summer, breaking his arm, while another statuette shows former Lazio governor Piero Marrazzo, who resigned in October after a sex scandal involving transsexuals, wearing a lipstick-stained shirt.
But not everyone is happy to see traditional cribs given a makeover.
In northern Italy, the appearance of a black holy family in two public cribs this year has infuriated politicians from devolutionist party the Northern League.
Tensions flared in Verona when a black Mary and Joseph appeared in a nativity scene at the city court awaiting a black baby Jesus who, according to tradition, will be placed in the crib on December 24.
Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia of the Northern League slammed the crib as a ”useless act of provocation”.
But Verona’s chief prosecutor, Mario Giulio Schinaia, denied the move was intended to antagonise the Northern League city council, whose mayor Flavio Tosi has courted controversy in the past with moves seen as anti-immigrant, and pointed out that historically the holy family were probably dark-skinned.
”The message I’d like to convey is that there shouldn’t be a white Christmas or a black Christmas, just a Merry Christmas for everyone, of whatever colour, ethnicity or provenance they may be,” Schinaia said.
In Trieste, local media reported that a scuffle broke out in the Friuli Venezia Giulia regional council building after a Northern League councillor, Danilo Narduzzi, asked centre-left colleague Paolo Menis to remove a nativity scene featuring black figurines he had taken into the main hall, describing them as ”voodoo” models that ”mocked the nativity”.
When Menis refused, Narduzzi waited until he left the hall before grabbing up the figurines and taking them out of the building himself, later trying to ban entry to two other centre-left councillors who tried to bring them back in again, according to local daily Il Piccolo.
Menis admitted he knew the crib would provoke some councillors, but said it was meant as a ”message of integration”.
This is not the first time that Christmas cribs have stirred up strong feelings.
In 2006, Catholic politicians expressed outrage after two centre-left Italian MPs placed two pairs of embracing Barbies and Kens in the nativity scene of the Italian parliament’s lower house in support of the rights of same-sex and unwed couples in Italy.
The same year, Bologna city council’s crib was at the centre of a heated row following the inclusion of a naked figurine representing a famous dead Italian porn star, Moana Pozzi. In 2005 the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio was inundated with protests after its nativity scene featured a six-metre-tall sculpture of Mary in high heels and a short skirt.
Elaborate cribs, sometimes containing dozens of figures of people and animals, are a standard Christmas feature in millions of Italian households as well as churches and public buildings.
St Francis of Assisi is believed to have created the first ‘living’ nativity scene in 1223 using live actors, and Italy also boasts the world’s oldest surviving crib, created by the Gothic sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Cambio for Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore Church between 1290 and 1292.