Christmas in Rome
The most talked about Christmas tree in Rome is without a doubt the tree in Piazza Venezia, in the heart of Rome’s historic center. Traditionally the tree in Piazza Venezia is the symbol of the beauty and magic of a Roman Christmas but this year the tree is none other than a sad pine with branches losing their pine needles. It’s decorated with 600 Christmas bulbs and 3000 lights that are turned on at sunset, but even they aren’t enough to help out this sad looking tree. It’s been given the nickname Spelacchio, which in Italian basically means “the bald one”. It’s tall and spindly with almost no greenery. The poor thing arrived half dead and as it turns out, has now been officially pronounced dead. The mayor of the city of Rome was thrilled with this tree because she got it at a great price: free. I suppose that should’ve made her suspicious, but with her eye on Rome’s budget that’s what she opted for. Not entirely free as it turns out because transporting and erecting the tree in Piazza Venezia cost the city of Rome close to €50,000. Now Rome is scandalized because although we haven’t yet reached Christmas day the poor tree is already dead.
The glaring contrast is with the lush tree in St. Peter’s Square. This tree was purchased by the Vatican, and is located on Vatican property. It falls fully within Vatican budget and not the city of Rome with its very over-stretched budget.
The Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square (nicknamed Rigoglio by the citizens of Rome, meaning luxuriant and thriving) traveled 2000 km from the archdiocese in Elk, Poland to reach the piazza. It’s an imposing red pine, 28 m tall and 10 m wide at its base. The tree is decorated with star and bulb ornaments made by children from cancer wards in Italy, and child victims of Italy’s most recent earthquakes.
In the past Rome’s abundance of art and architecture has been funded by private patrons and this trend is returning to the city. The recent restoration of the Trevi fountain was funded by the Fendi luxury fashion house, and the restoration of the Spanish steps by Bulgari. As Rome is filled with gorgeous architectural structures, churches, fountains, and various works of art that all require maintenance private patronage has become the most viable option and hopefully this trend will continue.
In keeping with this concept of private patronage this Christmas in Rome the Spanish steps have a lovely, and quite unusual Christmas tree on display, offered by Bulgari. The lighting up ceremony for the Christmas lights on Via Condotti and the Christmas tree on the Spanish steps was also funded by Bulgari, for the fourth consecutive year.
The presepe (nativity scene) at the Vatican was donated by the Abbazia di Montevergine. It’s made of hand-carved figures created in a 16th-century style reflecting the oldest neapolitan tradition. It’s built on an 80 m² surface, and is about 7 m tall. This year’s nativity scene is drawing a lot of attention and creating controversy due to its most notable figure, a well-muscled and prominently displayed naked man. There’s lots of speculation as to what role he plays within the nativity scene but the verdict still remains out.
Many of the hotels throughout the city are festively decorated, and the prettiest by far this Christmas in Rome is the Hotel de Russie on Via del Babuino. The hotel exterior is modestly decorated, but within the hotel there are at least three gorgeous Christmas trees, and various decorations occupying all public spaces within the hotel, including niches such as under the stairwell.
Some of the major shopping streets at Christmas in Rome are adorned with Christmas lights like these on Via del Corso, Via del Babuino, and Via de Coronari.
And of course shops throughout the center of Rome have lovely decorations, even including one of my favorite butchers, Angela Feroci, near the Pantheon.
Restaurants and eateries are decorated with Christmas lights and greenery.
At Christmas time in Italy the iconic holiday dessert is panettone. Each bakery produces its own, using its own unique recipe, and each bakery vows it produces the absolute best panettone. Yet it’s the decoration and packaging of panettone that people enjoy the most, as everyone brings a gift of panettone to holiday dinners and parties.
This year my favorite panettone was at Vitti, in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucino. It’s intricately decorated with colorful icing and marzipan and perfectly depicts Father Christmas in all his glory.
Vitti produces dozens upon dozens of panettone during the holiday season, from the elaborate to the simple, like these mini traditional panettone.
There are also many beautifully packaged, commercially produced panettone that you can order online. There’s a classic panettone in a beautiful red package, a chocolate panettone, or a pack of three mini 100-gram panettone packaged in red and grey bear-shaped sachets that make great gifts, especially for children.
A restaurant and bar that I’ve enjoyed this season is the Di Rienzo Bar and Restaurant, at the Pantheon. I’d never been inside this venue and I was pleasantly surprised by its warm atmosphere and beautiful holiday decor.
Di Rienzo also had a lovely presepe on display.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, wherever you are celebrating!