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Santi Auguri!
You'll want to read every word — but you'll have to know Italian, or have access to an Italian dictionary or Web translator. But you'll buy this book so just so you could enjoy looking at all those beautiful nativities…
Santi Auguri!
Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni
The Co-Author of Santi Auguri! holds a degree in literature, but her subject is the human heart: she speaks eloquently about its capacity to love, to hate — and to embrace, acting as a manger, if you will, for Christ. Noumerous art objects, many featuring the Christ Child, adorn her elegant Ravenna apartment. Come along for a morning visit to the world of this extraordinary philosopher, collector, teacher, and author.
Vittorio Pranzini
Santi Auguri! Co-Author, Educator, Collector

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Vittorio, wife Chiara, and son Nicoló outside their country villa—a warm welcome, a festive meal, scoops of gellato—and nativities galore.

You've been admiring those beautiful nativities on the pages of "Santi Auguri!," but you never dreamed that one day you would be able to see them let alone photograph them—and spend a day with author Vittorio Pranzini. But here you are, in his car with him and his son, heading towards their home in the country…

Surrounded by greenery, a Madonna and Child majolica wall plaque graces the entrance of the of Pranzini country villa.

It's about a fifteen minutes' ride to reach the home of Vittorio Pranzini outside Ravenna. It's surrounded by groves of cypresses and apricots, a two story country villa, with arched windows covered by dark-green shutters, two small trees stand guard outside the front door, and a majolica Mother and Child wall plaque graces the entrance.

As you enter you're met with soaring arches and beamed cathedral ceilings, by Vittorio's cat, who's lounging on a leather sofa, and by his wife, Chiara, who's been busy preparing lunch. It's spread on the long kitchen table—cold cuts, cheeses, fruits—in a spacious kitchen with an old-world feel. A build-in exhaust fan covered with tiles resembles a fireplace; a large oil lamp hangs from a chain pulley, and round copper pans from the wall. Arched windows let in lots of light.

"Vittorio opens a bottle of wine as he explains, "We've remodeled this place extensively. Our house used to be full of horses. It was the stables of a nearby country estate." Vittorio walks through another arched doorway to the dining room and you follow him. There, just for you, on another long wooden table he has arrayed his paper nativities—All those mangers, in a former stable… But Vittorio has opened the French doors that lead to the garden and is pointing heavenward, towards the roof of the house, and the sculpted head of a horse, a reminder of his house's past.

Back in the dining room, you spot it: the Alpine manger from the cover of "Santi Auguri!, the presepe a teatrino (theater, or fold-out creche) that was the very first paper nativity Vittorio bought at an outdoor ephemera fair (see previous story, "A Conversation with Vittorio Pranzini and Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni).

It's hard to believe that Vittorio's villa used to be the stable of a country stately home.
It's a stunning piece, quite large, in excellent condition. A single gable protrudes from the tall, slopping roof that's covered with snow and icicles. A pine grows to the right, a bell tower protrudes from the left, a young shepherd kneels by the front opening—that resembles the construction of an English manor—and through which the Nativity unfolds in three planes: the Magi and a sheep; another kneeling shepherd, the Holy Family, the ox and the ass; and the background that resembles a stable.

The figures are familiar, found in other nativities—as was the custom by publishers who could issue "different" editions by simple changing the manger, not all of the figures. But their familiarity does not detract from their beauty: the colors are vivid, the art of the first order, and the relief renders the figures life-like.

A "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" die-cut banner is superimposed on the roof, an easy way, perhaps, to customize this nativity for many lands, without having to print the whole front manger in many languages. And tiny pieces of glass, glued on the roof, refract the light, simulating glistening snow. No wonder this beauty has been charming Santi Auguri! readers from Italy to Brazil.

Vittorio Pranzini shares his collection of presepi di carta, letterini natale, and fogli di presepi di carta—paper nativities, Christmas letters, and nativity scenes.
Nicoló enters with what looks like pitta bread. "This is piedina he says,"a traditional bread of Ravenna. It's made with flour, wine, and milk, and was once the food of the poor people. But now we all enjoy it! My mother is making it for us." On a wooden extension to her kitchen table, Chiara has been rolling this pitta-like thin bread, and cooking it on the stove top. There are lots of rolled-out pieces yet to be cooked, covered with a sprinkling of flour and covered by towels.

Vittorio fills the wine glasses, as Nicoló, ever the wonderful interpreter, explains, "This wine goes well with cheese and prosciuto. You'll like it." And pointing to a platter brimming with cold cuts he says, "you can eat all that with the bread, like a sandwich. Prosciuto is also delicious with melone." Melon and prosciuto is an Italian favorite, and as if on cue, Chiara approaches the table with a platter of melon wedges.

"And piedina," Nicoló says, "is also very good with this cheese. I'll tell you the name, but it's very difficult to pronounce…" The cheese looks like cottage-cheese and tastes great with the bread."

Then the talk turns to Santi Auguri!. What does Chiara think about her husband writing a book? "I wanted to see the manuscript," Chiara, a former teacher of literature, says, "to make sure there were no mistakes!" Vittorio joins her in hearty laughter. Kidding aside, she's clearly supportive of his presepi di carta passion and proud of Santi Auguri!.

You tell Vittorio what Santi Auguri! has meant to you, about the nativity sheet in Santi Auguri! that awakened your long-ago love for paper creches. Does he share your enthusiasm? "Yes," Vittorio says, "I've enjoyed cutting out and assembling nativity scenes very much. And my collection contains nativity sheets from the 1950s to the 1960s. Look."

The manger that started it all—an Egyptian column, an Eastern Star, the Holy Family, three sheep. (Vittorio Pranzini Collection.)
He picks up a stack of printed sheets, and there it is—the nativity scene that started it all, the one from Santi Auguri!, the one with the Egyptian column. It's much larger, much more brilliant, much more beautiful than you ever imagined it. And it's right there, in front of you, for you to touch, carefully, and enjoy.

As is a so much of Vittorio's paper creche collection, along with a black-and-white copy of Scuola Italiana Moderna, Modern Italian School, a vintage periodical. There's a familiar fold-out creche on the front page, almost identical to the very first nativity you bought as a child in Greece! "This presepio a teatrino, this theater nativity," Vittorio says, "was published in Italy. I've seen your Greek creche on, and wondered about the similarities."

Then its time to photograph all those beautiful creches. Vittorio wheels a tea table by the French doors and begins arranging nativities on its glass surface for you to photograph.

You're clicking away, as Nicoló picks up a Letterini di Natale. Christmas letters from children to their fathers or grandfathers are dear to Vittorio. "They're precious," Vittorio says, "so lovingly written—often the first example of child's calligraphy—and so brightly decorated with small nativities and other die-cut scraps. Elisabetta and I are so fond of these Letterine di Natale we wrote a book about them" (see cover, below).

Letterine di Natale, another Vittorio Pranzini-Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni edition (Edizioni Essegi), contains images and messages of children's Christmas letters.
These first Christmas wishes from so long ago look so sweet you ask Nicoló to translate one or two. "Carissimo Papa… Dearest Dad," Nicoló reads, "This Christmas I wish you happiness and promise that I will do everything I can to be a good child. For Christmas I will pray to God to protect you, my Dear Dad, Mom, and our whole family. I kiss you and Mommy, and I pray that you forgive this little note, because the feelings in it are very, very large. Your Daughter, Christmas 1938."

"Dear Grandfather, I want to write to tell you how much I care for you and I wish you happiness and well-being. I always pray to Jesus because he will help you and I'm sure that the Divine Child will hear me because I asked with all my heart. Best wishes to you this Christmas, and many kisses, Anna, 1956."

Then Vittorio himself takes a break from helping you shoot his collection and reads one in Italian. You get it all on video, and you hope to share that special moment with creche enthusiasts on But right now, you keep pressing that shutter as Vittorio's voice takes you back to a Christmas past when a young child first picked up a pencil and paper.

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