The Christmas tree and “Sand Nativity” are seen after a tree-lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 7. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Sand and tree add to Christmas spirit at the Vatican

  • December 8, 2018
Catholic News Service

VATICAN – The annual unveiling of the Vatican’s Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people’s hearts as winter approached.

Hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 7 applauded as white curtains unfurled, revealing a 16-metre wide artistic representation of Jesus’ birth made entirely of sand and dubbed the “Sand Nativity.”

The bas-relief sculpture, which weighed over 700 tons, was made with sand from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 65 kilometres north of Venice.

Shortly after, as the sun set behind St. Peter’s Basilica, the sounds of “Silent Night” filled the square before the lights of the towering Christmas tree were lit.

The 13-metre-tall red spruce tree, donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, was unveiled at the Vatican’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

The “Sand Nativity” scene and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 13.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, responsible respectively for the Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

The Pope said the Nativity scene and Christmas tree are visible signs that “help us to contemplate the mystery of God, who was made man in order to be close to us.”

The bright lights emanating from the Christmas tree, he explained, “remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives out the darkness of enmity and makes room for forgiveness.”

The soaring height of the Christmas tree, he added, also symbolizes “God who — through the birth of his son, Jesus — came down to man to raise him to himself and elevate him from the fog of selfishness and sin.”

Pope Francis also reflected on the unique composition of the Nativity scene. Sand, he said, is a poor material that “recalls the simplicity, the littleness and frailty with which God show himself through the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem.”

“The child Jesus, Son of God and our Savior, whom we lay in the manger, is holy in poverty, littleness, simplicity and humility,” the pope said. “By contemplating the God-child who emanates light in the humility of the manger, we, too, can become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness.”


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