Vatican City, a holy city is the smallest sovereign country in the world. This wonderful nation with immense cultural and religious significance owes great to the Catholics all over the world. The nation which is also known for its architectural wonders is one of the most visited places during Christmas. In this country which is the home to Pope, Christmas is one of the most celebrated festivals in Vatican City. The Christmas celebrations in Vatican start with the Novena which comes eight days prior to the festival and closes on the Christmas day. It is the day when people of Vatican, irrespective of young and old set out to Vatican square to seek the blessings of Pope. This once in a lifetime experience is a unique opportunity for anyone during the auspicious occasion of Christmas. Vatican City is also known for its vast Christmas celebrations. Read further to know more about the various traditions and celebrations in Vatican City.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
Christmas in Vatican City has plenty of similarities with the Italian Christmas celebrations. It starts on 8 December which is the day of 'Immaculate conception' and 6 January marks an official end to Christmas which is the day of Epiphany. Christmas celebrations in Vatican extend for almost 21 days and Novena marks its beginning which continues for eight days prior to Christmas.
Celebrating Novena is done mainly by young musicians who sing Christmas songs, play musical instruments and give Christmas poems. There are times when musicians dress up as shepherds and it also comprises actual shepherds who perform in every house along their direction and get money in return.
Another popular Christmas tradition which is common in Italy is Presepio. Every household in Italy will have a Presepio of its own. The nativity scene or crib can be either big or small and is handed over from generation from generation. A Presepio usually contain the figures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus Christ along with an ox or a donkey which are made out of wood, plaster or clay. Everywhere in Italian cities and towns, Presepios are displayed with cathedrals having life-size figures.
A traditional Italian decoration staple which is generally found in homes is Ceppo. It is a pyramid structure which is designed to hold shelves which is full of varied Christmas items. This Ceppo have Christmas gifts on one shelf and candles on the other shelf. On the top portion of the Ceppo is kept stars along with ribbons and streamers and sparkly ornaments are hanged around.
Burning of Yule logs
Another tradition which is commonly followed in Vatican is the burning of Yule logs which must be kept burning till the New Year's Day. This signifies the purification power of fire which demolishes all the evil. As per ancient Christmas fables, when people were away for midnight mass, virgin Mary entered the houses and warmed the new born babies in each houses with a burning log.
Legend Of La Befana
There is an Italian tradition which has a character named La Befana who is similar to Santa Claus. She is an old witch flying on a broom and leaves gifts in the form of toys for children on the Feast of Epiphany. As per the legends, three wise men who were on her way to see baby Jesus dropped in her house, seeking directions. Though they invited her to join them, she refused but changed the mind later. She gathered up some toys and went to meet Jesus but lost her way in between. It is said on Christmas Eve, she visits the houses of every child and leaves a Christmas gift, in case Jesus is there. Kids leave their shoes at the fireplace so that it gets filled with candies and other gifts by La Befana.
People in Vatican observe a 24 hour fast prior to Christmas. On the day of Christmas, the fast is broken by having a meal together with the family members.
In the midst of Christmas merrymaking and fervour, people lit long and slim candles which are known as Christmas tapers following which dinner is served. A Christmas tree is installed in St. Peter's Square in Vatican and a nativity scene is unveiled on Christmas Eve.
Vatican City witnesses special and exclusive masses and gatherings to mark the birthday of Jesus Christ. Inside the St. Peter's Basilica, there happens a midnight mass and a live coverage of Pope Benedict reciting a holiday reading from Basilica's central balcony. A huge television screen is set up in front of St. Peter's Square for the people to see the midnight mass live.
Vatican City is very lively during Christmas. Hope this article familiarises you with the various Christmas celebrations in Vatican.