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Like 800 years ago: Vatican presents its Nativity scene, Christmas tree

St. Peter's Square - Christmas tree and nativity scene lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec.09 2023


Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 12/09/23

The Crib in St. Peter's Square in 2023 is a reminder of the scene that St. Francis set up in 1223, thus beginning the tradition of the Christmas crèche.
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This year, the Vatican crib has brought the Nativity scene back to its origins: Both the origins of the Bethlehem stable, and the origins in the caves of Greccio in Italy. It was around these caves that St. Francis of Assisi, now 800 years ago, set up the first Nativity scene, to remind himself, his brothers, and the faithful of the town of the Babe who came to us in a manger.

This December 9, 2023, Pope Francis and the Vatican authorities welcomed the installation of the crib in St. Peter’s Square to commemorate the Franciscan anniversary. The crib is accompanied by a 25-metre (80-foot) fir tree from Piedmont.

St. Peter's Square - Christmas tree and nativity scene lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec.09 2023

Pope Francis recalled his namesake’s journey that brought about the Nativity scene 800 years ago:

The Nativity display set up in Saint Peter’s Square aims to evoke, after 800 years, the Christmas atmosphere of the year 1223 in the Rieti Valley, where St. Francis stopped. His journey to the Holy Land was still vivid in his mind and the caves of Greccio reminded him of the landscape of Bethlehem. Therefore, he asked to depict the Christmas scene in that small village: Many friars arrived from various parts, and men and women also came from the cottages in the area, creating a living nativity scene. Thus, the tradition of the nativity scene as we understand it was born.

This year, then, from St. Peter’s Square we will think of Greccio, which in turn takes us back to Bethlehem. And as we contemplate Jesus, God made man, small, poor, defenceless, we cannot but think of the tragedy that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are living, expressing to those brothers and sisters of ours, especially the children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support. They are the ones who pay the true price of war.

St. Peter's Square - Christmas tree and nativity scene lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec.09 2023

At home too, like Mary

Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to find this same spirit of contemplation in our homes.

Before any Nativity display, even those we make in our own homes, we relive what happened in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago; and this should reawaken in us a longing for silence and prayer, in our often so hectic daily lives. Silence, so as to be able to listen to what Jesus tells us from the unique “cathedra” of the manger. Prayer, to express grateful wonder, tenderness, perhaps the tears that the Nativity scene stirs in us. And in all this, there is the model of Mary: She says nothing, but contemplates and adores.


This year’s Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square comes from the forest near Macra, a small mountain village in Piedmont.

It is adorned with Edelweiss flowers cultivated on the plain, to protect those that grow in the high mountains.

“This too is a choice that makes us reflect, highlighting the importance of care for our common home,” the Pope said. “Small gestures are essential in ecological conversion, gestures of respect and gratitude for God’s gifts.”

St. Peter's Square - Christmas tree and nativity scene lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec.09 2023
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