Obama makes the nativity scene

Marketplace Staff Dec 19, 2008
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Obama makes the nativity scene

Marketplace Staff Dec 19, 2008
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Tess Vigeland: Here’s a Christmas riddle: What do President-elect Barack Obama, Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, French First Lady Carla Bruni and the Pope have in common? No, they don’t all think they’re the Second Coming ? at least they’re not admitting it. Marketplace’s Megan Williams traveled to an outdoor market in Naples to get the answer.


Megan Williams: Gennaro di Vergilio carefully paints a red tie on a clay figurine of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Vergilio’s Naples shop window is crammed with other figurines — the late opera star Pavarotti, soccer players and the Pope. Di Vergilio is one of dozens of Naples’ merchants who specialise in Nativity scenes. That’s right, along with little statuettes of Mary, Joseph and the Three Wise Men, he’s peddling famous characters to toss into the manger mix. And some locals. The wine seller, the pizza chef and — big points for realism — the pick-pocket. This year, an American politician is proving to be the Northern Star for shoppers.

President-elect Barack Obama. Di Vergilio says he sells about 250 miniature Obamas a week at $40 each. Nativity scenes are an 800-year-old tradition in Naples. The shops go on for blocks and attract thousands of tourists. But it’s been tough recently. This year, the recession has thinned out the crowds. Last season it was the Naples garbage crisis. Di Vergilio says he tried to work the theme in.

He had Prime Minster Berlusconi holding a couple of garbage bags, but he says he drew the line at creating a little illegal dump outside the manger.

We don’t want to turn people off nativity scenes, he says.

Not much chance of that with Obama on the guest list. He’s a big draw for shoppers like Maristella Guarcino. She’s here to buy a figurine of the president-elect for her little manger at home. She says he fully deserves his spot beside the Christ Child.

Maristella Guarcino: He was brave. He went through so much. I also have Berlusconi, and Carla Bruni I bought last week. I wanted her because she’s stylish.

Some Nativity newcomers haven’t sold quite so well. Like the guy who didn’t win the election. He has sold zero McCains. Just like when it comes to Christ, when it comes to presidents, there’s only room for one.

In Naples, I’m Megan Williams for Marketplace.

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