At the Vatican, it’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

VATICAN CITY — St. Peter’s Square has resounded with banging and clanging since Monday.

At the Vatican, the beginning of the Advent preparation for the “silent night, holy night” of Christmas is anything but quiet and peaceful.

Vatican workmen have begun erecting a tall fence in the center of the square. They’ll cover the fence with burlap to prevent public peeking at the Nativity scene that will be unveiled on Christmas Eve.

The scene has been titled, “Francis 1223 — Francis 2013,” to honor Pope Francis’ first Christmas at the Vatican, but also to recall his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. According to tradition, the Assisi saint invented the Nativity scene in 1223 when, during a visit to the Italian town of Greccio to celebrate Christmas, St. Francis preached to the local residents at a mountainside grotto where he had assembled a hay-filled manger and an ox and ass to represent the scene of Christ’s birth.

The Vatican’s 2013 Nativity scene is being sponsored by the Archdiocese of Naples, the city that is home to some of the most famous Nativity scenes in the world.

One of the Nativity scenes featured on the website of Cantone & Costabile, the firm making this year's Vatican Nativity scene.

One of the Nativity scenes featured on the website of Cantone & Costabile, the firm making this year’s Vatican Nativity scene.

Antonio Cantone, an artisan with the Cantone & Costabile firm of Naples, is the main artist of the figures of the Holy Family, the three Wise Men and the 11 other figures that will populate an 18th-century Neapolitan townscape. The adult figures are about 6.5-feet-tall. The statues’ heads, hands and feet are made of terracotta and their eyes are made of crystals. Their 18th-century costumes were handsewn.

While workers are serious about preventing visitors from spying on the work in progress, anyone with a computer can keep track on the progress by accessing the Vatican webcams.

And, of course, there is nothing the Vatican can do to keep the preparation of the Christmas tree secret. The 82-feet-tall evergreen, a gift of the people of Waldmunchen — a town in Germany’s Bavaria region near the Czech border — is scheduled to arrive in St. Peter’s Square Friday.

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