The traditional inauguration of the Nativity Scene and the lighted Christmas tree will be held, despite the COVID-19 limitations, in Saint Peter’s Square on Friday, December 11, at 4:30 pm.
According to a Vatican note, the ceremony will be presided over by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Bishop Fernando Alzaga, Secretary-General of the same.
Given the circumstances the world is experiencing due to the pandemic, this year’s Christmas decoration is intended to be “a sign of hope and trust” and an expression of the “certainty that Jesus comes among His people to save them.”
The Nativity Scene, which will be set up in Saint Peter’s Square, comes from Castelli, in the Italian province of Teramo, a very important ceramics center since the 16th century. The red fir tree is 289 meters tall and 70 centimeters in diameter; it comes from the Municipality of Kocevje in South-eastern Slovenia.
According to the press release, this Crib is characterized by being made up of ceramic statues that are larger than those of natural size.
Not only is it a cultural symbol for all the Abruzzi, but it’s also considered an object of contemporary art, which sinks its roots in the traditional work of Castelli’s ceramics. It’s a work done by the students and teachers of the F.A. Grue Art Institute, present-day State School of Art for Design.
Only a few pieces of the fragile collection of 54 statues will be displayed in Saint Peter’s Square. They will be placed along a luminous platform, of some 125 square meters, which surrounds, in a gentle slope, part of the obelisk.
The sculptures represent the Wise Kings. At the center, in the highest point of the platform, is the group of the Nativity Scene, with an Angel with open wings. His place above the Holy Family symbolizes his protection of the Saviour, Mary, and Joseph.
The first group of statues, made up of the Holy Family, was made together with the piper, the shepherdess with the jar, a flautist with Pan’s flute, and a girl with a doll. The inspirers of the project were Serafino Mattucci, then Director and animator of the Institute, and the teachers Gianfranco Trucchia and Roberto Bentini. The students and all the Institute’s technical staff took part with great enthusiasm.
In the Abbruzzi Crib, there are strong references to the history of ancient art, from Greek to Sumerian art, passing through Egyptian sculpture. Moreover, in the objects that enrich it and in the <pentachromia> with which the works have been decorated is found the memory of local ceramic art. The statues were made with modules of rings that, overlapping, form cylindrical busts.
Perceived in some figures, especially in the use of color, is the experimentation and renewal of the ceramic art developed in those years in the Grue Institute. The first public display of the Nativity Scene took place in Castelli, in the Mother Church in December of 1965, then Christmas of 1970 was the turn of the Trajan markets in Rome and a few years later in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Tel Aviv.
The Christmas Tree
The red fir comes from Kocevje, South-eastern Slovenia. This region is one of the Slovenian territories where nature is most intact, taking into account that the forests cover 90% of its territory.
The fir chosen for Saint Peter’s Square grew six kilometers in a straight line from the virgin forest of Krokar, one of the two Slovenian forest reserves. The other is Sneznik-drocle (in the Notranjska region), one of the 63 sites of ancient primordial beech trees that are on UNESCO’s world patrimony list.
Symbol of Fertility
The picea abies (red fir) spread amply in Slovenia in the second half of the 18th century. It represents over 30% of the forest resources and is the most important tree species from the economic point of view. It has been a symbol of fertility since ancient times and, in popular tradition, it is often used in ceremonies such as the May 1 celebrations or those of Christmas. In the Beka Krajina region, it was a tradition on the feast of Saint George, to carry in procession a spruce decked out with flowers and fabrics. Europe’s tallest fir, Sgermova smrek, measures 61.80 meters and is found in the Pohorje Massif in Slovenia. It’s about 300 years old, with a perimeter of three meters and 54 centimeters; its diameter is more than a meter.
The Tree and the Nativity Scene will be displayed in the Square until the end of Christmastide, which coincides with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 10, 2021.