If my colleague Cindy Wooden hadn’t had taken pictures of the empty grotto and a crane taking the star down off the tree yesterday, I would have sworn I was dreaming.
But there it was. Everyone was back: the Holy Family, the Three Kings … everyone except the angel hovering over the manger.
What happened to bring Christmas back after staff at the office governing Vatican City told me yesterday a decision was made to be take everything down early this year?
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, anticipated our puzzlement and came to the press hall this morning armed with the following explanation:
He said, “There was a leak” in the roof over part of the Nativity scene “and since the statues are made of papier mache, they had to be moved out” temporarily. Also the electrical wiring needed to be checked to make sure everything was still safe, he said.
But herein lies the mystery. If the roof had sprung a leak, why had everything been removed from the scene, including the shrubs and trees planted outside? Don’t plants like a little water?
Also the larger-than-life hand-carved statues are made of wood, which would have been vulnerable to water damage, too. In fact, the only statue made of papier mache — the angel — was still gone this morning.
But why had the crane been taking down the tree? The lights had been removed as well as the star at its tip.
When we checked this morning, the tree was still standing — its lights and the star still gone and decorations at the top noticeably thinner. But all the pretty plants in front of the scene were back snug in fresh mounds of dirt…
Why, too, did the Vatican press office take down all their decorations the same time yesterday?
A quick call back to the nice people at the Vatican’s governing office only heightened the sense of mystery. When asked what had happened, one staff member said, “It was a miracle.”
The staffer who had told me yesterday Christmas decorations were going to be taken down early this year retracted the comment saying, “It was false.”
But Italian police who patrol the square told one Vatican journalist they had been alerted that trucks would arrive to dismantle the Nativity scene on Monday.
We’d like to think miracles do happen beyond 34th Street. But whatever the reason for the Holy Family’s return, pilgrims coming to Rome will get to enjoy the Vatican Nativity scene until Feb. 2 when it really will come down … keeping with Vatican tradition.