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Piazza San Pietro

text and photo Joanne Bergamin

December 3, 2019

A Vatican Christmas

The most evocative traditions and celebrations of the holiday season

Christmas is always a time of great beauty and spiritual importance in the Vatican, celebrating the birth of Our Lord. In accordance with tradition, every December 5th the grand unveiling ceremony of the Vatican’s Nativity Scene takes place in the middle of St. Peter’s Square under the obelisk. Next to it, the imposing Christmas tree is set ablaze with hundreds of glistening lights. Both tree and nativity are donated to the Vatican from different cities every year. The tradition of gifting the Christmas tree began under the papacy of John Paul II in 1982, when the first tree was delivered to the Pope by a Polish peasant. Last year the tree came from the province of Pordenone in northeast Italy and this year the almost record-breaking 26-meter-high spruce tree was grown on the nearby Asiago Plateau. It was delivered and raised at dawn on November 21 by an enormous crane, and locals and pilgrims alike awaited the lighting ceremony with much anticipation.

The 2019 nativity is a gift to the Holy Father and pilgrims to Rome from Scurelle, the municipality of Valsugana in the northern Italian province of Trento. The origin of the tree and manger this year are so bound by the memory of the devastating storm of October-November 2018. The nativity is made almost entirely of wood, housed under a scàndola (shingle) roof, characteristic of Trentino. The life-size characters of the Holy Family are surrounded by the Magi, shepherds and animals. Pilgrims can enjoy the Christmas display until 12 January 2020.

Each year, many Nativity Scenes are displayed inside the Vatican. The Parè Artistic Crib Group of Conegliano, Treviso, has prepared the one inside the Paul VI Hall, visible during winter Papal Audiences. And inside St. Peter’s Basilica, members of the public can take pleasure in all the moving parts of the Nativity Scene created annually by a large team of Sampietrini (St. Peter’s maintenance staff).  


Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Mass for the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 pm on December 24.

On 25 December at 12.00 pm, Pope Francis will read his Christmas message and give the Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. This spectacle features many members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, Vatican Gendarmerie and pontifical bands in formation in St. Peter’s Square.

On Thursday, 26 December, at 12:00 pm midday, the Pope will pray the Angelus from his window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

On 31 December at 5.00 pm, the Pope will celebrate First Vespers for the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, followed by the exposition of the Holy Eucharist, the traditional singing of the Te Deum in thanksgiving for 2019, and the Eucharistic blessing. 

On 1 January 2020 at 10.00 am, the Pope will celebrate Mass for the Feast of Mary the Mother of God in St. Peter’s Basilica. The theme for World Day of Peace for 2019 was “Good Politics is at the Service of Peace”.

On 6 January at 10.00 am, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The traditional end of the Christmas season is 2 February - 40 days after Christmas - which is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Candlemas). Each year, the Pope marks the end of the Christmas Season by celebrating Mass inside the Sistine Chapel for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on 13 January. As a tradition at this special Mass, Pope Francis baptizes about thirty babies. 


In this article we talked about Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano

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