Obama top wise man in Naples nativity figures

NAPLES Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:35pm EST

President-elect Barack Obama speaks during a news conference where he introduced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago December 11, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

President-elect Barack Obama speaks during a news conference where he introduced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago December 11, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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NAPLES (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are appearing in Italian nativity scenes this year, alongside the baby Jesus and wise men, according to Naples craftsmen selling figurines in the run-up to Christmas.

The production of handmade figurines for nativity scenes is big business in this southern Italian city and has been for centuries.

But beyond the thousands of angel, sheep, Mary and Joseph figures filling market stalls before Christmas, craftsmen say Obama has become a top seller.

"The ones we are selling the most of are those of Barack Obama, America's new president, along with his wife Michelle," said craftsman Genny Di Virgilio.

Tradition requires that the nativity scene be built up over time until Christmas Eve, when baby Jesus is put in the manger as the very last element of the display.

As always, figurine-makers provide a chance to choose a more light-hearted approach for the scene providing replicas of personalities who have made the news during the last year.

Beyond Obama, they are also selling figurines of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni and even Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

While cherished by many, some people say the arrival of celebrity figurines spoils the traditional sense of Christmas.

One nun, Angelica, scoffed at what she called a "cartoon version of a nativity scene."

Grandfather Pasquale Oliva, looking into a shop window in Naples agreed with her.

"Something as beautiful as the traditional nativity scene shouldn't be spoiled by these figurines of personalities and I don't think children like them."

However, his young grandson Francesco was quick to disagree, snapping "yes" when asked if he liked the modern twist on tradition.

(Reporting by Eleanor Biles, editing by Paul Casciato)

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