With Thanksgiving over and Advent upon us, a disconcerting rumor has been circulating inside the Vatican press hall the past few weeks. A few journalists said they heard this was going to be the last year a Christmas tree would adorn St. Peter’s Square — a tradition started in 1982 by the late Pope John Paul II.
The reasons? Both secular: One Vatican watcher surmised the pope no longer wanted to continue the custom because honoring the evergreen has its roots in pagan culture and because this environmentally friendly pope didn’t want any more majestic, nearly 100-year-old trees to be cut down.
But how could a German pope celebrate the yuletide without O Tannenbaum!? Looks like this rumor snowballed from comments that had already been bumping and rattling around the Italian blogosphere last year.
Well, people of Whoville, fear ye not. The Grinch will not be descending upon St. Peter’s Square — at least not any time soon.
Pier Carlo Cuscianna, director of technical services for Vatican City and mastermind behind an ambitious greening of the Vatican, told Catholic News Service the rumors weren’t true. Not only will there be a tree next year, he said they “already have trees lined up until 2012.”
Mountainous, woodsy communities across Europe clamor and pine year after year to be the first to spruce up St. Peter’s Square for Christmas. Far from being an eco-disaster, forestry workers have said the trees cut down for the Vatican were trees already destined to be felled as part of a healthy forest management program.
Also, Pope Benedict has urged the faithful to keep Christmas traditions alive.
Not just for tree worshippers anymore, the candlelit evergreen is a reminder that Christ, the light of the world, “has shattered the darkness of error and sin,” the pope said during a December 2005 audience with that year’s tree donors from Austria.
PHOTO: Last year’s Vatican Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square is seen with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background after a tree-lighting ceremony. (CNS photo/Daniele Colarieti, Catholic Press Photo)