The Vatican

The Vatican

Steeped in tradition and history, many see the Vatican as an emblem of religious authority. The sovereign state was established in 1929 through a treaty signed by both the Holy See and The Kingdom of Italy. Serving as the center of Roman Catholic faith, Catholic faithful continuously flock to the state, but even more so on two important Catholic occasions: Easter and Christmas.

Every year at Christmas, the Pope delivers the popular midnight mass from the St. Peter’s Square. It is a big event that sees a large influx of people. St. Peter’s Basilica can only hold a limited number of people, but fortunately, a big screen TV placed in the square enables everyone to watch and hear the mass delivered by the Pope.

The following day, at around noon, visitors can still catch a glimpse of the Pope as he delivers his Christmas message from the window of the Papal apartments. In a state surrounded by commercial Christmas celebrations, the annual message of the Pope has become a guiding light for the devout.

Underscoring these valued Vatican Christmas traditions are two Christmas displays initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Placed in St. Peter’s Plaza, the Nativity scene and the Vatican Christmas tree have become an important part of the Vatican’s Christmas festivities.

Originally a pagan tradition, the Yule tree has been adapted by Christians to the holy holiday itself. Taking the tradition of classic Christmas trees into the center of Roman Catholicism, Pope John Paul II explained that the tree continues to flourish despite the harshness of winter. According to the Pope, “(the tree) exalts the value of life. It is the tree of life, a figure of Christ, God's greatest gift to all men."

The Vatican Christmas tree is usually a Norway spruce donated by various organizations or individuals. Smaller donated trees are then used to light up the apostolic palace and several other points in the Vatican. Erected a week before Christmas, the tree is decorated with over a thousand lights and has a lighting ceremony marked by a brief ceremony and prayers.

At the end of the Christmas celebrations, the trees are sent to mills that process the precious lumber which is then carved into statues or toys. These items are then sold and the profits are directed to fund charities and programs for the underprivileged.

As Pope John Paul II famously said, the Christmas tree symbolizes life. Even after serving its purpose, it is still highly valuable and can be utilized to help and bring humanity together. The Christmas tree is a wondrous symbol indeed.