40-year tree tradition at Vatican

Christmas tree is thanks to a saint of our times

The Christmas tree decorates St. Peter’s Square after a lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec. 10, 2021. (CNS photo | Paul Haring)

How much does your Christmas tree weigh?

This year, the Christmas tree at the Vatican, in St. Peter’s Square, weighs 8 tons. It was lit on Dec. 10, when Pope Francis noted that it was “a sign of Christ, the tree of life, a tree that man could not access because of sin. But with Christmas, divine life joined that of mankind. The Christmas tree, then, evokes rebirth, the gift of God that is united with man forever, who gives us his life.”

According to the Vatican News Service, the Christmas tree is a 113-year-old red fir, more than 90 feet tall, from Andalo, in the northern Italian Trentino region near the border with Austria. It arrived at the Vatican on Nov. 23. 

Even though this huge tree is an eye-catcher, it is only the 40th Vatican Christmas Tree, also called the “St. Peter’s Square Christmas Tree.” Its annual presence comes to us thanks to St. John Paul II.

Christmas trees are not an Italian tradition — even though ancient Romans used evergreen decorations in winter — but they were a tradition in St. John Paul II’s native Poland. A few years after he became pope, John Paul received the gift of a Christmas tree from a man who had brought it all the way from Poland. That started what was to become a tradition. In 1982, the pope approved the placing of the first Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. That tree was also a fir tree, one that came from the nearby Alban Hills, about 30 miles from St. Peter’s.

At the same time, John Paul II also approved the first Nativity set to be placed in Vatican Square. Both tree and creche have been a tradition ever since.

Figures are pictured in the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square during a preview for journalists at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2021. The Nativity is from Peru’s Huancavelica region and was unveiled to the public Dec. 10 during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. (CNS photo | Junno Arocho Esteves)

Each year, the Vatican Square tree comes from a different country in Europe, such as Austria, Germany and, yes, Poland. All are donated. There have been two Polish Christmas trees, the first arriving in 1997.

The present fir tree took 12 hours to cut, according to the local town newspaper L’Adige. The Vatican Press Office also noted that the tree comes from a “sustainable forestry management” project. The Trentino Delegation also provided the 600 wooden, ball-shaped decorations that adorn the tree.

The Christmas tree is energy efficient. The Vatican Governorate handles the tree’s lighting and uses a low-energy consumption LED electric system.

This year’s Vatican Nativity scene was made in the Peruvian community of Chopcca, a small town in the Andean region of Huancavelica. It is the 200th anniversary of Peru.

Its 30 figurines were created by five artists, all members of the indigenous Chopcca Nation. Vatican News said the life-sized figurines representing the Holy Family, Magi and shepherds are made of ceramic, maguey wood and fiberglass, and wear traditional Chopcca costumes. The Magi carry saddlebags and traditional Peruvian foods, such as potatoes and quinoa. They are accompanied by llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, sheep, flamingos and Andean condors (Peru’s national symbol). There is even an angel playing the wajrapuco, a traditional Andean wind instrument that resembles panpipes.

The Christmas tree and Nativity scene will remain in place in Vatican Square until Jan. 9, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

To see a video of the Vatican tree lighting on Dec. 10, visit Rome Reports video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUUfL8bNY3U 

Sources: vaticannews.va; romereports.com; catholicnews.com; catholicnewsagency.com; slmedia.org; aleteia.org; Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (Italy) at PEFC.org and thevaticantickets.com.