(Vatican Radio) Christmas celebrations get underway in earnest at the Vatican Monday
evening, as pilgrims and tourists led by Roman families flock to St. Peter’s Square
for the traditional lighting of the Christmas candle and unveiling of the giant Nativity
Shortly after sundown children’s choirs and the Vatican Gendarme brass band struck up festive carols to entertain the people in the square, where since late afternoon queues had been forming in anticipation of the Christmas Vigil Mass.
The long lines snaked around the square, beneath the giant Christmas tree, with people joining in the carols and chatting. Then, shortly after 6pm, the curtains were drawn from the windows of the papal apartments and Pope Benedict XVI appeared.
In a tradition echoed in homes across the world each Christmas eve, the Holy Father placed a simple white candle on his window sill and lit it signalling the beginning of the final countdown to the Nativity. The candle is a sign of welcome, to the Christ-child and all travellers, harking back to that ancient Christmas Eve when Mary and Joseph found no room in Bethlehem.
It also signalled the unveiling of St. Peter’s Square’s giant Nativity Scene a closely guarded secret until sunset on Christmas Eve.
This Christmas the birthplace of Jesus comes from the Basilicata region of Southern Italy and features the Holy Family in a re-creation of the city of Matera’s ancient cave dwellings. It covers more than 140 square meters and includes over 100 terracotta statues of varying height, depicted in an intricate system of scenery and lighting on a raised platform. It is also the first year that the scene is being donated, resulting in significant savings for the Vatican.
The only thing missing, of course, is the statue of the infant Jesus. The Christ-child will be placed in the manager at the conclusion of the Christmas Vigil Mass, presided by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Mass begins at 10 pm Rome time, with full live coverage in English on Vatican Radio’s Vatican player. (right hand side of home page, click on TV on demand icon)