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An Italian Christmas tradition encompassing a couple generations continues in a Lower Burrell household.
For at least six weeks out of the year, retired cabinet maker Pat Pesce shows off the family’s presepe, or nativity scene.
It has grown from a small manger set that could fit on a coffee table to an 11-foot by 8-foot display spanning much of the family’s living room.
Pesce, 74, works on it year-round to get it ready for family and friends.
“It takes a little bit of skill,” he said. “It takes time and patience. I like to do it. I try to make it different every year. Change it a little bit, add something on.”
The display was started about five decades ago by Pesce’s father, the late Joseph Pesce, who immigrated to the United States from Calabria, Italy. All the characters in the display are imported from his home country.
All the buildings and scenery used now are handmade by Pat Pesce. Some were made within the past few years by Pat Pesce’s grandchildren: Luke and Mark Maggi, and Mia and Sofia Pesce.
It features several hundred pieces, from plastic foam buildings with real cedar shingles to a market with tiny bushels of fruits and vegetables, and a wine grotto complete with carts, barrels and someone stomping grapes. Palm trees are made from painted masking tape.
The craftsmanship and attention to detail is evident as each shingle was carefully placed to mimic Italian architecture. There are lights inside the grotto and the market.
Scenes include women doing laundry on a rooftop of a butcher shop. Another lady is plucking chickens outside of a coop that was painted by using toothpicks and black ink.
A band has gathered by a well for a jam session. Moss from trees was used as grass.
Street signs identify the towns as “Betlemme” and “Nazaret,” Italian for Bethlehem and Nazareth.
Characters include the three wise men, angels, bakers and gardeners.
Baby Jesus is not put in his place until Christmas morning.
Pat Pesce’s efforts are supported by his wife of 52 years, Mary.
She said the display usually draws a crowd, but things will be different this year because of the covid pandemic and limited family gatherings.
“He enjoys doing it. The kids enjoy it. But with this covid now, it’s a little bit rough,” Mary Pesce said. “We’re going to leave it up for quite a while. We have a lot of friends that come and see it.”
The display is usually up from the week after Thanksgiving until the third week of January.
Then the living room furniture returns for the rest of the year.
Pesce said he hopes to expand the display and add another layer next year.
Local | Valley News Dispatch