Every year the Christmas season begins for me when we cover the arrival of the Vatican Christmas tree. We go to the Vatican at dawn and film as an 18-wheeler, flat-bed truck rolls into St. Peter’s Square with the gigantic tree. We stand around stamping our feet in the chilly, damp air as men in hard hats run around preparing the tree to be lifted up by an enormous crane and placed on its spot in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. Nuns, Bishops, and tourists wander by and stop to stare at the operation.
I’ve done this little story for years now, but I never get tired of it. Last night I was covering the Italian Prime Minister announcing austerity cuts and the tears of the Minister of Welfare and Work as she talked about the cuts to pensions. (See post “Sacrifice and Tears”) So today Italians woke up a little blue. Me too. Somehow it seemed fitting that there was a big, heavy, grey raincloud hovering over the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica. Occasionally a little burst of rain would pour down on us as we watched the workers pulling the blue wrappings off the tree and attaching chains and cables to lift it up.
This year’s tree was a spruce that came all the way from the Ukraine. Vatican officials indicated that it was over 25 meters tall and weighed nearly five tons. Tetiana Izhevska, the Ambassador from the Ukraine to the Vatican, was there and she explained to us that the tree came from a remote area of Ukraine called Transcarpathia and had to be taken out with the help of a helicopter.
Her country is the first former Soviet country to donate a Christmas tree to the Vatican since Pope John Paul II started the tradition in 1993, and I would say she was bursting with pride. This is what she told me:
“The Ukrainian people are very proud because it is our image, it proves that we are part of Europe and all our people, both the Orthodox and Catholic communities, all of them, are very proud, are very glad, because this tree is a symbol of life, symbol of hope, symbol of unity and Christmas joy”.
Ukraine is not a part of the European Union and it is interesting to me that the ambassador said that they are eager to prove they are part of Europe and proud to be so. I have not noticed much pride on the part of Italians and Greeks lately. Let’s hope the Ukrainians and others in Eastern Europe can breathe energy and enthusiasm into Western Europe.
Over the next week the tree will be decorated with 2,500 gold and silver balls and white and yellow LED lights. Vatican officials said these lights are energy efficient. Few people are aware but Pope Benedict XVI is probably the most environment-conscious Pope in history. Some people even call him the “Green Pope.” During his papacy he has had solar panels installed on the roof of a Vatican building (I climbed up on the roof and filmed them with a cameraman), and the Vatican has become carbon neutral, acquiring enough trees in a Hungarian national park to off-set the Vatican’s green-house gas emissions.
So it is the Economic Crisis Christmas. In Italy and at the Vatican they’re saving euros and saving energy.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.