Christmas in Venice: an itinerary to discover the most beautiful nativity scenes in the city centre and in the mainland

30 December 2021

Venice, December 28th, 2021 – You can find it there, between apses, central naves, and main altars of venetian churches. These are nativity scenes, traditional representations that decorate Venetian churches filling them with the magic of Christmas through tiny statues, lights, shepherds, and snowy landscapes. Anyone can see them following a unique itinerary that goes through the city and its main churches. A fascinating journey that includes the most beautiful churches of the city in the year in which Venice celebrates its 1600 years of life. Traditional, innovative, made of marble or drywall, with or without moving statues, venetian nativity scenes tell a story in their own way, using the unusual nature of a city that has always relied on water. What you have here is a journey, a unique itinerary to discover some of the most beautiful nativity scenes of the city. To see them means to find a warm, welcoming, and familiar atmosphere.

Our journey begins by water, from the main centre of the Venetian lagoon that welcomes one of the most evocative nativity scenes of the city: the floating nativity of Burano. This is a nativity scene that embraces the sea, a project developed by a greengrocer fond of art, Francesco Orazio, who chose to decorate the waters of the venetian lagoon by creating a unique nativity scene on water. Sixty figures that come out, fixed on wooden stakes, and anchored on the bottom. An extraordinary composition that mirrors on water, right in front of the old fish market of Burano and that, at every hour of the day, takes on a different colour. An innovative point of view which corresponds to the essence of the city.

The little village of Campalto has also chosen water as the main location for its nativity scene. Floating on a raft placed on the Punta Passo Campalto dock, the nativity scene can be visited until January 6th, 2022. An original project, developed by the Associazione Civica Culturale Pro Campalto (Cultural and Civic Association Pro Campalto). Following our itinerary in the mainland, here in Mestre, there is the long-awaited nativity scene realised by the Capuchin friars. A traditional nativity scene, hosted in one of the altars of the church. In Carpenedo, inside the church of Ss. Gervasio and Protasio, the scene is dominated by the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, while around there is the whole village moving under the light of the Comet that lightens the way to the Three Wise Men. In Marghera, the churches of San Pio X and Sant’Antonio have recreated traditional nativity scenes with the aim of enhancing the message of Christianity.

Very original are instead the nativity scenes that can be found in Venice. Inside the church of San Zaccaria, in Castello. Here, tradition meets innovation, resulting in a nativity scene that has as key points creativity and sustainability. A shelter - made with bubble wrap that reflect lights - welcoming the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the ox, the donkey, and Baby Jesus in a natural landscape characterised by mountains, wooden houses and tiny statues representing traditional nativity scene characters. Developed by Alberta Baldan and Luisa Becchi who aimed at creating a nativity scene by using recycled objects only, this unique scene has been created on the right side of the church main altar.

Here in Castello, a nativity scene en plein air can also be admired. It is in via Garibaldi, and it floats inside a traditional venetian boat called “vipera(viper), a boat that is characterised by a double bow. This boat is owned by the Remiera Casteo and by the Società di Mutuo Soccorso Carpentieri e Calafati, that together share its property. Inside the boat, a nativity scene has been set up by means of plywood panels representing the nativity that acquires a purely venetian character.

Inside the Basilica di San Pietro di Castello we can admire another nativity scene which can be defined as the most traditional one. Long-awaited by venetians who live nearby, this nativity scene is located on the left side of the nave of the church. The most typical area of Venice also gives people the opportunity to admire other wonderful nativity scenes in other churches, such as the one realised by a student and located in the main altar of the church of San Martino or again, the one located in the church of San Francesco di Paola.

The pursuit of the most beautiful nativity scene in Venice continues by moving towards another area of Venice: Dorsoduro, with a new gem to be discovered: the nativity scene at the Gesuati church in Zattere.  It is a creative reinterpretation of the venetian landscape with houses, palaces and mountains made of cardboard. Former police officer Sergio Molin has been building this nativity scene for 14 years now. Every year a new innovative landscape, although in the background there has always been Venice. This year, the nativity scene of the Gesuati has been titled as “Ruga Sant’Isepo”, and it is dedicated to this biblical character in the years in which it was celebrated. Here in Dorsoduro, we can also find two other nativity scenes, part of the tradition, hosted in the churches of San Trovaso and Carmini.

The magic of the nativity scene can also be found in Cannaregio, where two breathtaking nativity scenes are located: inside the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo and in the one of Santi Apostoli.

Strolling along San Marco area, we stumble across the nativity scene inside the church of San Salvador that welcomes the birth of Jesus in a wooden hut surrounded by a natural landscape. In this very same area, we can also admire the nativity scene inside the church of Santo Stefano, framed by a wreath of pine needles, palm trees and a hut in tree bark.

Among all these nativity scenes though, there is one that stands out, and is in the San Polo area, inside the Basilica dei Frari. It is an original representation of the nativity realised by Father Sergio Zanchin who every year chooses among the most beautiful statues representing shepherds, farmers, fishermen, millers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, and potters included in this astonishing landscape which represent the real essence of Christmas.