The Bethlehem occupies St. Peter’s Square but the Vatican recognizes that this Christmas is “different”


Like every year, the Christmas fir tree dominates St. Peter’s Square in Rome, but this year it is not like the others.

The wishes for these holidays rest on a vaccine that can stop the pandemic that has made Italy the country in Europe with the most deaths from COVID-19, more than 65,000 deaths.

The Vatican is aware of these circumstances as explained by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, organizer of the event.

“These are Christmases different from all the ones we have experienced in recent decades. But these are Christmases that should not make us feel alone because the whole world shares the same solidarity in suffering.”

In this 43rd edition of Christmas, the Vatican also presents an exhibition with 100 Nativity scenes, some related to dramatic moments such as the Amatrice earthquake that shook central Italy in 2016.

The curator of the exhibition, Ivan Ricupero, explains that there have also been modifications.

“For its manufacture we have gone from clay, cardboard, polystyrene to recyclable materials as the children of the schools that have participated have done.”

An astronaut in the Bethlehem of St. Peter’s Square

As for the main Bethlehem, with 50 large ceramic figures of contemporary art, located in the center of San Pedro Square, an intruder, an astronaut, has crept in.

The explanation is that the teachers and students of the State Institute of Design, who carried out the work between 1965 and 1975, then wanted to include figures that made reference to important events of the moment, such as the conquest of the moon in 1969.

The Nativity scene had already been exhibited in Rome at Christmas 1970, and afterwards it passed through other cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv, and according to its creators it represents “a synthesis of tradition and welcoming of the new, of search and experimentation” .

In addition to the Christmas tree and the Nativity Scene, Saint Peter’s Square houses a sculpture representing a barge with a group of immigrants of various races, including the Sagrada Familia.

Pope Francis, who usually visits the decoration of the square on the night of December 31, has always asked to continue the tradition of the Bethlehem Portal both in public spaces and in homes.

In fact, in December 2019 he published the letter “Admirabile signum” on the meaning of this custom and went to sign it in the town of Greccio, in whose caves, according to tradition, Saint Francis of Assisi recreated the first Portal in the 13th century.

However, other traditions have had to be disrupted this year because of the pandemic. The mass of the Rooster that the pope usually celebrates at 10 p.m. CET has been brought forward to 7:30 p.m. CET to respect the curfew in force in Italy.


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