Buon Natale!

Mr. Night and Ms. Day gawk at Hill Nativity scenes and then go eat sandwiches. You can, too!

Dec 22, 2004 at 4:00 am
When we planned to take the Hill Nativity Walk (sponsored by the Italian Club of St. Louis, 314-422-3102 or www.italystl.com/italianclub/), the weather was warm. It seemed like such a good idea. Walk through a great neighborhood, see a horde of Nativity scenes, maybe grab a bite to eat. Then it got cold, but we were determined: Christmas must be celebrated! Nativities must be written about! Sandwiches must be purchased! Mr. Night and Ms. Day agreed to meet at SKIF International (2008 Marconi Avenue) and then see a little bit of Italian culture right here in St. Louis.

We headed to John Viviano & Sons (5319 Shaw Avenue) to pick up a map. Viviano's on a Saturday morning is crowded like nearby St. Ambrose on a Sunday morning, and after fighting our way through the crowd to the counter, we discovered that the grocery store was out of maps. The stop was worth it for the aroma of Viviano's -- and for the rogue Nativity scene we spotted two blocks east: a lovely gold-painted Holy Family with a naked baby doll filling in for baby Jesus. Yeeps.

We then backtracked west until we hit Standard Refrigeration Service (5218 Shaw Avenue) and Judy Mann's "A New Era" entry. The setup features custom-built scenery (crumpled paper balls, fake moss, electric lights and a small moon bath set against a backdrop of live poinsettias) and a unique cast of characters, including a pizza guy and a pirate fisherman. We deemed it lovely, and odd.

Missouri Baking Company (2027 Edwards Street) was also crowded and out of maps, and it made us hungry -- we were on a holy mission, though, and delicious baked goods could not sway us ("Could too!" says Ms. Day).

But on the next block, Girasole Gifts and Imports (2103 Marconi Avenue) made us forget our hunger, thanks to Joe Monolo's grandmother's "Bambino Gesù," a plump little baby Jesus sleeping in a small crib. This piece came over from Italy with Grandma in 1923, according to the card. "That's what Christmas is all about," said Mr. Night. "Getting out the family heirlooms and remembering your grandmother." Girasole also had the very traditional Marie Cuccia-Brand and Debbie Monolo entry, "Natività," which Ms. Day noted was "sans Baby Jesus." This is how all Nativities are supposed to be until Christmas, and props to "Natività" for keeping it real.

"Polish Nativity" (?), a multicolored metallic miniature of St. Mary's Church in Krakow, Poland, dazzled us from Elegance by Design's window (2105 Marconi Avenue). Our hands were pretty numb by this point, and our notes are tough to decipher, but we think we wrote that this Barbara Klein entry was "pretty," or maybe "purty."

We were struck by the opulence of Klein's "L'arrivo dei Re Magi," located at Vitale's Bakery (2130 Marconi Avenue). With handmade clothes on all the figures (and not the traditional rustic garb, either -- this Holy Family is dressed to the nines) and sheep with real wool, this made an excellent last Nativity of the afternoon. We were tired, cold, hungry and Amighetti's still had special sandwiches. More than a dozen Nativities went unseen, but the tour remains up through January 2. Besides, Ms. Day vows to do all her grocery shopping on the Hill, so an update may be in the works.