Shortly I will leave for St. Peter’s Square for the lighting of the Christmas tree, the unveiling of the Nativity scene and the inauguration of the new lights for St. Peter’s Dome and façade. I will take pictures and videos and post those as soon as humanly possible. In the meantime, here’s a look at the Vatican’s tradition of trees and “presepi” or Nativity scenes.


This last weekend before Christmas, I have a real treat during what is normally the interview segment! I read Pope St. John Paul’s 1994 Christmas Message to Children! And, as I say in my introduction, if you are a child – or a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle and have small children near you – this is for you! It is just wonderful!

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Pilgrims visiting St Peter’s Square the afternoon of this final Friday of Advent will be treated to a wonderful spectacle. Late this afternoon, the Vatican’s Christmas tree, placed near the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square will be lit and the nearby Nativity Scene unveiled. In addition, 315 clusters of LED lights placed around the dome and façade of St. Peter’s Basilica will be inaugurated, giving the world’s most famous basilica a stunning new look!

We’ll take a look at the Vatican’s Christmas traditions but first start with Pope Francis’ meeting this morning with religious and civil authorities from the Italian cities of Verona in northern Italy and Catanzaro in Calabria, southern Italy, to thank them for, respectively, the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree they have donated for St Peter’s Square.

He told his guests that the life-size crib figures, given by Verona’s Arena Foundation, and the giant fir tree from Calabria will be admired by many pilgrims coming to the Vatican from all corners of the globe.

Francis said that, “the Nativity scene and Christmas tree are evocative festive symbols very dear to our Christian families: they recall the mystery of the Incarnation, the only begotten Son of God, made flesh in order to save us, and the light that Jesus has brought to the world through His birth. But the creche and the tree touch the hearts of all, as they speak of fraternity, intimacy and friendship, calling to people of our time to rediscover the beauty of simplicity, sharing and solidarity. They are an invitation to unity, harmony and peace; an invitation to make room, in our personal and social life, for God, Who does not come with arrogance, imposing His power, but instead offers His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a Child. The creche and the tree therefore bring a message of light, hope, and love.”

The Holy Father said Christmas trees and Nativity scenes have permeated and enriched the culture, literature, music and art of the different Italian regions and remain an important legacy for future generations.

It was St. John Paul II who, in 1982, inaugurated the Vatican tradition of placing a tree and a Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. Often an Italian region or European country that donated the large tree for the square also donated smaller ones to be placed in various offices of the Roman Curia and rooms of the Apostolic Palace.

This 2014 Christmas tree was donated by the southern Italian region of Calabria, which Pope Francis visited in June of this year. It is 70 years old, 80 feet tall, weighs eight tons and has what is known as a twin trunk, that is to say that two separate trunks have fused together to form a single tree trunk. This feature is also used symbolically, to show that man is never alone on his journey through this life, but is always joined by the Lord.

The Nativity scene is titled, “The Nativity Scene in Opera,” and is composed of 25 life-size terracotta statues, a gift from the “Verona for the Arena” Foundation. The scene is inspired by the operatic works for which the city is known, with the intention of promoting Italian opera throughout the world. The basis for the title of the display is a play on the double meaning of the word “opera” in Italian: it is “at work”, in the sense that its message is universal and active, and also based on the material used to stage the operatic work “The Elixir of Love” by Gaetano Donizetti.