THE Pope has urged Christians not to succumb to the commercialisation of Christmas, but to reflect on its true meaning, as shopping bonanzas continued around the world despite Covid-19 restrictions.
“The symbols of the nativity scene and decorated tree bring us back to the certainty that fills our hearts with peace — to the joy of the incarnation, and to the God who becomes familiar and lives with us,” Pope Francis said last Friday.
“Let’s not have a fake Christmas, a commercial Christmas! Let’s allow ourselves to be enveloped in the closeness of God, a closeness which is compassionate and tender, and in the Christmas atmosphere brought by art, music, songs, and traditions.”
The Pope made his appeal while meeting representatives of the Trentino-South Tyrol region of Italy, the Huancavelica region of Peru, and young people from the parish of San Bartolomeo, in Gallio, who had donated nativity scenes and the Christmas tree for the Vatican.
The tree in St Peter’s Square has this year come from the Dolomite Mountains, and the traditional nativity scene was produced in the South American region, while a second crib was donated for the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall by the parish in Padua diocese.
The crib in the Square features 30 figures, including Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and three Kings, dressed in the bright clothes of the indigenous Chopcca people of Peru, as well as Andean flora and fauna.
The Pope said that the characters both represented the people of the Andes and symbolised the “universal call to salvation”. The 90-ft fir tree represented the tree of life and “the gift of God united for ever with man”, and would be lit to embody “the light of love which continues to shine in the nights of the world.
“This is Christmas — let us not let it be polluted with consumerism and indifference,” he continued.
“At Christmas, God reveals himself not as someone dominating from on high, but as one who humbles himself to serve, small and poor, a companion on the road. . . For it to be truly Christmas, let us not forget how God comes to be with us and asks us to care for our brothers and sisters — especially the poorest, weakest, and most fragile, whom the pandemic risks marginalising even more.”
The nativity scene and Christmas tree in St Peter’s Square were introduced by St John Paul II in 1982 and form the centre of the Vatican’s Christmas decorations. They are traditionally taken down on the Baptism of the Lord, 9 January. The official inauguration ceremony and lighting of the tree take place this afternoon.
Last year’s nativity scene received mixed reactions: it featured giant ceramic statues created by an art school at Castelli, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. They included Playmobil figurines and clothes-peg dolls, as well as an astronaut bringing moon rock to the Christ-child.
The Vatican said that this year’s unveiling and lighting ceremony had been held in the Paul VI Aula because of poor weather, but had included seasonal music from Peru, and symbolised “Europe and America united in paying homage to the King of Kings”.