The Christmas Tree and the Raincloud

Andrea Rosa (in blue jacket) Films the placing of the Vatican Christmas Tree for APTN. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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. ┬áIn Italy and at the Vatican they’re saving euros and saving energy.

 

11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Gwen Thomas
    2011/12/06

    Perhaps the tree with breathe hope into the Italians as they face the austerity plan.

    On another note, I’d love to see a blog on the “Green Pope”and his environmental efforts.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/12/07

      Oh, good idea. I will plan to do a “Green Pope” post!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    AdriBarr
    2011/12/06

    Hi Trisha,

    Thanks, I needed that. How nice to see a news story with a happy ending. There is all too much bad news these days, both at home and abroad. And a five ton tree!! Good grief! What a spectacular display. I am sorry I will not be there to see it in person. I do look forward to a post once the tree is all dressed for Christmas.

    And thanks for the enlightenment about the environmentally conscious pope. I had no idea.

    Buone feste,
    Adri

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Candace Dempsey
    2011/12/06

    This made me smile, Trisha. Reminded me of that movie, Groundhog Day, always the same story! Glad you had fun. My niece is studying in Ukraine this year so she will enjoy reading it too. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/12/07

      How funny, I never thought about that, but it really is a bit like the film Groundhog Day covering the Vatican Christmas Tree every year. One of the year’s I will really get it right! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you too!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    lisa chiodo | renovating italy
    2011/12/07

    What an interesting life you lead Trisha, love all the insights and no I didn’t know they call the Pope the Green Pope….
    ciao lisa

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Lega Medcalf
    2011/12/07

    This story put me in the Christmas spirit…thank you.

    Also, what is going on with the Irish Government and the Vatican regarding the embassy shut down? I haven’t heard much lately.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/12/07

      Lega, thank you for your comment. The whole question of Vatican-Ireland relations is fascinating. The official reason for the embassy shutdown was economic, but we all know there is much more behind it. I think the priestly pedophile crisis was even more dramatic in Ireland than it was in the US. I was at a fascinating press conference the other day by one of my Vaticanisti colleagues, Marco Politi, who has just written a book on Pope Benedict XVI called “Joseph Ratzinger: A Papacy in Crisis.” I will try to do a post on the question soon (after the holidays). Wishing you a wonderful holiday season. Trisha

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    jwthomas
    2011/12/10

    Hi,

    Great story and really nice comments. I forwarded this to Tatiana. Thought she, as a Ukranian would really like it.

    Nice compliments above. Keep up the great work. L/D

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Liz Cameron
    2011/12/14

    I’m with Gwen – green pope story!

    So, what about the America mozzarella mamma hybrid – when does she put up the tree?

    Will it have LED lights?

    The Turk in my house is making a “Christmas peace sign” out of solar-powered LED lights to shine over to the neighbors, with whom we are having a small tree and fence related battle.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/12/14

      I have definitely put the “Green Pope” Post on my to-do list. I managed to get the tree up with the help of the family on Sunday. No LED lights for me. No time to find them. Just bought some little lights at the hardware store (Ferramenta) down on the corner. I am too frazzled to become a Green Mozzarella Mamma. Or if I do, it is because I have become moldy rather than a good environmentalist.

      Reply

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