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Advent and Christmas at the Vatican

The Vatican is a special place to hundreds of millions, especially during Advent Season and at Christmas, a solemn occasion.

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Advent and Christmas at the Vatican

When I was a child, my parents and I would attend Christmas Eve Mass at St. John’s Catholic Church in Whitehall, Wisconsin. When we got home, my father and I would watch the replay of Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican on television. After watching the beautiful Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, we would say to each other, “One day, we’ll go there together!”

Sadly, my father and mother were never able to make the trip to the Vatican. However, as the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, I was blessed to attend Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s on several occasions. And each time, I brought the memory of my parents with me.

Christians take part in a variety of traditions during Advent and the Christmas season.

Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. The Vatican has many beautiful traditions that take place during this time each year.

Since 1953, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pope traditionally venerates a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. This year, while observing the annual tradition of adorning the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a wreath, Pope Francis prayed, “We want to thank you because in silence, as is your style, you watch over this city, which today wraps you in flowers to tell you its love.”

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In early December, the Vatican unveils its Nativity scene and lights its Christmas tree.

This year’s Nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti and unveiled on Dec. 9. It commemorates the 800th anniversary of the first live Nativity scene staged by St. Francis of Assisi in a cave near Greccio, Italy, on Christmas Eve in 1223. The scene in St. Peter’s Square was inspired by a 15th-century fresco that now adorns the cave, which Pope Francis said “reminded [St. Francis] of the landscape in Bethlehem.”

This year’s 28-meter spruce came from the Piedmont region of Italy and was lit on Dec. 9.

Throughout December, small Nativity scenes are also on display at the Vatican. This exhibition has become a tradition and is held annually under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. This year’s exhibit features more than 120 Christmas crèches from 22 countries, including Italy, the United States, Poland, and Ukraine.

On Saturdays leading up to Christmas, visitors and pilgrims can also learn more about how the Nativity of Jesus Christ has been depicted throughout history by taking a special Nativity in Art tour at the Vatican Museums.

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Sister Emanuela Edwards, who leads Educational Activities for the pontifical collections, said, “What particularly moved me was the reaction of children who enthusiastically learned about the origins of the characters in the Nativity scene. For some of them, it was the first time they encountered the biblical stories of the birth of Jesus. The tour was truly an act of evangelization!”

Visitors can explore centuries of early Christian art in the pontifical collections while venturing through the Pius-Christian Museum, the Pinacoteca, and the Sistine Chapel.

“Through art,” Sister Emanuela said, “the events of the Lord’s birth enter into our minds and hearts in a real way, contributing to making this central mystery not only for faith but also for our lives.”

The Advent season concludes and the Christmas season begins with a papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 24. This year, Pope Francis will celebrate the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve with millions of Catholics watching around the world.

On Christmas Day, the Holy Father delivers the Urbi et Orbi, a papal blessing extended “to the city and to the world.” The Pope normally gives this special blessing from the balcony of the central façade of St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas and Easter.

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The liturgical season of Christmas does not end, however, on Dec. 25; it extends through the beginning of January. Throughout this holy season, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Feast of Saint Stephen on Dec. 26, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord on Jan. 7, and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 8.

As we prepare for Christmas, let us take time to reflect on the mysteries of the Nativity and the birth of Jesus Christ.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolicy and made available via RealClearWire.

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Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich is President and Chief Executive Officer of Gingrich 360, a multimedia production and consulting company based in Arlington, Virginia.

She is a former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on October 16, 2017, sworn in by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on October 24, 2017, and credentialed by Pope Francis on December 22, 2017. Gingrich served in Rome as ambassador until January 20, 2021.

During her tenure, Ambassador Gingrich worked to advance and defend international religious freedom, combat human trafficking, provide humanitarian assistance, and support the role of women religious around the world.

Gingrich is a New York Times best-selling author. She is the author of the Ellis the Elephant children’s American history series and co-author of Rediscovering God in America. Ambassador Gingrich is also the producer of nine documentary films including, “The First American,” “Nine Days that Changed the World,” and “Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny.”

Gingrich graduated cum laude from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 1988. In 2018, Ambassador Gingrich was awarded an honorary doctorate from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

In 2020, she received the title Dame Grand Cross of the Order of Pope Pius IX by Pope Francis, the highest distinction conferred by the Holy See on laypersons, in recognition of her contributions to the Church and society.

And in 2023, she received a Luther College Distinguished Service Award for admirable service to society.

Ambassador Gingrich serves as the President of the Gingrich Foundation. She also serves as a Member of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Board of Trustees, a Member of the Ave Maria School of Law Board of Governors, and a Member of the Richard Nixon Foundation Board of Directors.

Previously, Gingrich served as a congressional aide in the U.S. House of Representatives and as the President and CEO of Gingrich Productions. She sang for two decades with the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and played French horn with the City of Fairfax Band in Fairfax, Virginia for over three decades.

Ambassador Gingrich is married to Speaker Newt Gingrich and resides in Naples, Florida and McLean, Virginia.

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