Annual Christmas Tree Lighting at St. Peter's Square Tonight

Nativity Scene From Verona Will Also Be Illuminated

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The annual Christmas tree lighting in St. Peter’s Square will take place tonight.

The event will begin at 4:30 p.m., and the tree lighting coincides with the unveiling and illumination of the Nativity Scene.

More than an hour before, excited faithful and families gathered in the Square. One could hear the singing of the Ave Maria, bands, babies and Church bells.

This year’s Nativity Scene features 25 life-size figures. The tree, which is 25 meters (82 feet) tall, was donated by the Southern Italian region of Calabria. 

The tree is 70 years old and was brought to Rome at the beginning of the month.

The Nativity Scene, “Il Presepe in Opera,” is a gift from the Verona for the Arena Foundation. The inspiration behind its set design was the opera Elisir d’Amore by Gaetanto Donizetti. 

One hope is that the scene will help to showcase and promote Italian Opera in the world, but the title is also a play on the two meanings of the Italian word “opera,” which can mean either the theatre production or the verb “to work.”

So the “Nativity scene in Opera” also highlights the work that God brought about in the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  

Intimacy and friendship

Pope Francis met on Friday with religious and civil authorities from the Italian cities of Verona and Catanzaro to thank them for the Christmas tree and nativity scene that they donated for St Peter’s Square. The life sized crib figures, given by Verona’s Arena Foundation, and the giant fir tree from Calabria, he said, will be admired by many pilgrims coming to the Vatican from all corners of the globe.

Christmas trees and Nativity scenes touch the hearts of all people with their message of light, hope and love, Pope Francis said. These symbols of Christmas, he continued, have permeated and enriched the culture, literature, music and art of the different Italian regions and remain an important heritage to hand on to future generations. Drawing inspiration from its operatic tradition, staged in the city’s famous amphitheatre, the nativity figures from Verona were originally created for a performance of Donizetti’s two act opera ‘The Elixir of Love’.

Both the crib scene and the tree, Pope Francis said, recall the mystery of the Incarnation and the light that Jesus brought into our world. But they also touch the hearts of those who don’t believe in God because they speak of fraternity, intimacy and friendship, calling us to rediscover the beauty of simplicity, sharing and solidarity.

These Christmas symbols are an invitation to unity and peace, the Pope said, urging us to find room in our lives for God, who does not try to impose himself with arrogance, but rather offers us his love through the fragile figure of a new born baby.

Also, the ceremony will include the illumination of the Basilica and the dome, for the first time in the event’s history.

Full text of Pope’s address:

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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