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Italian Christmas Features Presepio at the Met, New York

This week begins The Italian Tribune’s Annual Christmas Season editions, where each week through December 21, we bring you stories, events and recipes for this most joyous season. We will visit places in Italy where entire towns are decorated for Christmas and ornaments that are true works of art. Every Italian family has its own special traditions and the foods of the holidays are a treat that many of us look forward to many weeks in advance. We hope you will enjoy some of our recipes and allow our love and passion for Italian cuisine to become part of your family’s tradition. This week we begin with the celebrations of the Christmas season at the Met in New York City.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be offering a wide variety performances, events and special displays to celebrate the Holiday Season. The Met continues a beloved holiday tradition with the presentation of its Christmas Tree and 18th century Neapolitan Presepio, which will be on view until January 7th. Magnificently set in front of the 18th century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid in the Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, the tree has become a must-see holiday favorite of both New Yorkers and visitors from around the world. Recorded Christmas music and daily lighting events add to the enjoyment of the holiday display.

The towering 20-foot blue spruce is gracefully lit and adorned with 19 cherubs and 59 angels, while at the base an additional 71 figures represent the three elements of Nativity scenes that were traditional to 18th century Naples, including adoring shepherds and their flocks, the procession of the three Magi, and spirited peasants and townspeople. The display is enhanced by nearly 50 animals and by background pieces that create a dramatic setting for the Nativity; these include the ruins of a Roman temple, quaint houses and an Italian piazza fountain. This unusual combination was first presented to the public 60 years ago, in 1957, with The Met’s exhibition of Mrs. Howard’s collection. Since 1964, more than 200 Neapolitan Presepio figures from the 18th century have been donated to the Museum by Loretta Hines Howard and displayed in the galleries each holiday season.

Each day the tree lighting events take place at 4:30 pm, with additional ceremonies on Fridays and Saturdays at 5:30 and 6:30 pm. The tree lighting is free with Museum admission.

Exhibitions on view at The Met Fifth Avenue throughout the holiday season include: Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer (through February 12), David Hockney (through February 25), Rodin at The Met (through January 15), and Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection (through January 7).

The Met Fifth Avenue celebrates the holiday season with a variety of concerts and performances, including Byzantine Pop-Ups on Friday, December 15th at 4:00, 6:00 and 8:00 pm in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. It features Axion Estin Foundation Chanters. These pop-up concerts feature hymns and carols of the Byzantine Empire. Antiphonal works, with musicians alternating parts in multiple languages, weave a sonic tapestry in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, with our magnificent Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Presepio as the centerpiece.

The Lorelei Ensemble will perform on Thursday, December 21, 6:30 and 8:30 pm, in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. The enduringly elegant and inventive Lorelei Ensemble returns to The Met with a program of a cappella holiday treasures spanning the Medieval, Baroque and modern eras. Tickets start at $65.

A variety of dining options, from fine food overlooking Central Park in The Dining Room to casual fare at The American Wing Café, are offered at The Met Fifth Avenue. Cocktails, appetizers, and live music—including performances by Ethel and Friends in December, are available every Friday and Saturday evening at the Great Hall Balcony Bar.

Visitors can delight in two exceptional winter holiday scenes sculpted in sugar and fondant. Handcrafted by The Met’s James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef Randy Eastman, the display will be on view through Saturday, January 6, outside of The Cafeteria and The Dining Room.

The Met Cloisters, the branch of the Museum in northern Manhattan dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe, will be decorated with a medieval theme and concerts of early music will ring in the season. In Medieval ‘Christmastide’ Decorations from December 8 through January 8, visitors will experience a unique museum tradition that revives festive, medieval culture. Arriving guests will first pass under a great arch of holly boughs bright with red fruits, which symbolize light, warmth and welcome.  Above all other plants, holly is associated with the medieval feast. Once inside, visitors will be greeted in the Main Hall with grand arches bedecked with fresh ivy locally sourced in Fort Tryon Park. The gardeners dress each of the ivy arches with hand-polished apples, hazelnuts, rosehips and pinecones.

Elsewhere, throughout the halls, cloisters, galleries and arcades, visitors will be treated to verdant displays of topiaries, garlands and wreaths. Candelabras will be wrapped with ivy and adorned with roses. Windows will be filled with potted fragrant and flowering plants such as citrus, rosemary and cyclamen. Each plant is a symbol and celebration of the season.

Programming at The Met Cloisters Holiday-themed concerts by renowned performers and a festival for the whole family are among the holiday offerings at The Met Cloisters. Programming includes: The Cherry Tree: Music for the Yuletide Season Sunday, December 3, 1:00 and 3:00 pm. The Baltimore Consort offers brightly arranged ballads, carols, and dance music from Renaissance Europe and their modern versions in the New World, all performed with a cornucopia of string, wind, and percussion instruments. Tickets start at $65. The Story of Christmas in Medieval Art will take place at the Cloisters on Saturday, December 2nd at 12:00 and 2:00 pm, while the story of the Three Kings will take place on Saturday, January 6th at 12 and 2:00 pm.

The Met is located at 1000 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The Met Cloisters is located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park in New York City.