Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas trees

Rome has changed in the two weeks that I have been away.

This morning, as I emerged from the train at Colosseo, in addition to the magnificent profile of the Coliseum, there was, etched against the dawn sky, a massive Christmas tree, laden with lights and decorations. To keep it secure, there are four cables, each fastened to the ground, but the fastening embedded in a veritable mountain of plants, carefully selected so that their colours blend together and do not distract from the loveliness of the tree.

At lunchtime, I headed to St. Peter’s to view the progress there. This year’s tree has, I’m told, been donated by Calabria, and what a wonderful specimen! It is not quite as tall as the obelisk beside which it stands, but it is absolutely dripping in white lights, silver and gold ornaments, tinsel and other decorations. It is beautiful! The lights will not be switched on until Christmas Eve, but even in the daylight, the tree is a sight to be seen!

At the foot of the tree, the preparations are well under way to ensure that the Crib, also to be unwrapped on Christmas Eve, is bigger and better than ever before. Apparently this year’s Crib, sponsored by Bavaria, is the biggest that has so far been seen in St. Peter’s Square. That is something I can’t judge for myself, but the little bits that I could see above the canvas screen surrounding the construction, indicate a great deal of work. It looks as though the massive stone blocks that characterize so many of Rome’s ancient ruins, have been recreated for the occasion, presumably not in stone, but certainly looking realistic enough to keep anybody guessing. Some of the blocks have carved ‘stone’ friezes and capitals, again looking extremely realistic.

With a true Italian flair for the artistic and for lighting, the Christmas trees on the Via Nazionale and at Piazza Partigianale are a delight to behold…even from the bus on the way home this evening. Again, they are festooned with hundreds of white lights, shining brilliantly in the darkness.

One of the beauties of Christmas is that God and human beings work together to create something lovely for everybody to enjoy. Of course there is a personal satisfaction in doing a good job and in producing something that many thousands of people can admire, but it is still a willing partnership between God and his Creation.

Christmas is not an easy, joyful time for everybody. Inevitably there will be those who, for one reason or another, will shed a tear or two within the next few days, but it would be wonderful if the lights of Christmas could also kindle in their eyes, even if only for a few moments.

Some years ago, when I was based in London, I went to Westminster Cathedral on the way home, intending to make use of the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I must have sounded as under the weather as I felt because the priest, when it came to giving me my penance, asked me if I had seen the Christmas display in a nearby shop window. I hadn’t. For my penance, he told me to find the shop, to spend some time looking at its lovely Winter Wonderland and to thank God for giving such creative talents to his people. I tell you, I felt an entirely different person afterwards and walked home praising God. Try it for yourself.

God bless,
Sr. Janet