Pope Francis on Friday encouraged Catholics to celebrate Christmas with a focus on Jesus Christ’s closeness, not on the consumerist, commercial aspects of the holiday.
“Let’s not live a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas,” the pope advised Dec. 10. “Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate, which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs, and traditions bring into the heart.”
Pope Francis met delegations from Peru and Italy in advance of the inauguration of the Vatican’s 2021 Christmas nativity scene and tree in St. Peter’s Square.
Speaking in the Paul VI Hall in the morning, where another life-size nativity scene has been set up in expectation of the Christmas season, Francis urged people to not let Christmas “be polluted by consumerism and indifference.”
The symbols of Christmas, especially the nativity and Christmas tree, “bring us back to the certainty that fills our hearts with peace, to the joy of the Incarnation,” he said.
The Vatican’s 2021 nativity scene was unveiled in St. Peter’s Square in the afternoon on Dec. 10. It will be on display until Jan. 9, 2022, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The nativity came from the small town of Chopcca, in Peru, nestled at more than 12,000 feet in the Andes. It features 35 figures, both people dressed in the typical Chopcca clothing and animals local to Peru, including a condor, the country’s national symbol.
The figures of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Child Jesus, and the Magi are life-size, and made of materials such as ceramics, maguey wood, and fiberglass.
The Child Jesus will be represented by a “Hilipuska” child, wrapped in a “chumpi,” or woven belt, and covered with a typical Huancavelica blanket.
The Three Wise Men are carrying saddlebags, or woven sacks, from the region, with popular superfoods such as quinoa, kiwicha, cañihua, and potatoes. Instead of camels, the Magi are accompanied by llamas with the Peruvian flag on their backs.
The nativity scene is also in celebration of Peru’s 200 years of independence. During the unveiling ceremony, videos of performances by a children’s choir in Peru were shown.
Due to cold, rainy weather, the unveiling ceremony took place inside the Paul VI Hall, with a video live-stream of St. Peter’s Square for the lighting of the Christmas tree.
This year’s spruce tree, at almost 92 feet tall, came from a forest in the far northern part of Italy, in the province of Trentino.
Pope Francis said that the tree “is a sign of Christ, the tree of life, a tree that man could not access because of sin. But with Christmas, divine life joined that of mankind. The Christmas tree, then, evokes rebirth, the gift of God that is united with man forever, who gives us his life.”
The lights adorning the tree remind Christians of Jesus, “the light of love that continues to shine in the nights of the world,” he added.
Regarding the nativity from Peru, the pope said that it symbolized “the universal call to salvation,” and reminds us that “indeed, Jesus came to earth in the concreteness of a people to save every man and woman, of all cultures and nationalities.”
The pope also reflected on the importance of hope during the Christmas season.
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“The reason for the hope is that God is with us, he trusts us and never gets tired of us,” he said, noting that God chose to come and dwell among mankind and “take on the realities where we spend our days.”
“This is what the nativity scene teaches us. At Christmas, God reveals himself not as someone who is on high to dominate, but as the One who humbles himself, small and poor, a companion on the road, to serve: this means the way to resemble him is lowering one’s self, service,” Francis said.
“For it to be truly Christmas, let us not forget this: God comes to be with us and asks us to take care of our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest, the weakest, the most fragile, whom the pandemic risks marginalizing even more,” he said.
“May Our Lady and St. Joseph help us to live Christmas like this,” Pope Francis told the delegations. “I renew my gratitude to all of you, your countries, and your families. God bless you.”