Did you know that the first foreign Christmas tree set up in St. Peter’s Square in 1983 was a gift from Tirol? And that the base of the Vatican Christmas Tree was made in Tirol as well?
In 1982, under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the first Christmas tree was erected in Saint Peter’s Square initiating a new tradition in Vatican City. The tradition of putting up a tree during the Christmas season was historically celebrated in northern Europe and Poland, Pope John Paul II’s country of origin, but not in the Vatican until that year.
And then there was that idea. In 1983, Wilfried Egger (†), a former collegue and passionate member of the Tirol Tourist Board, wanted to give the pope a Christmas tree from Tirol. The fact that this was not without its problems and matters were unnecessarily complicated didn’t bother him at all. He took it all in his stride and found a solution for each and every problem – he even designed the concrete tree base for Saint Peter’s Square.
And finally, in early December 1983, Wilfried Egger travelled to Rome in the company of official representatives of the Province of Tirol to give the Christmas Tree from Tirol to Pope John Paul II – including a massive concrete base to install the tree safely. The decorated tree was erected in the Saint Peter’s Square directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Music was provided by the Wilten Boys’ Choir – who performed a Polish Christmas carol to honour the Pope (who was from Poland as you might remember). The choir was even invited to sing in one of Italy’s broadcasting company RAI’s most popular TV shows. As it would have taken much too long to receive studio access permits for the boys, they were smuggled through the back door by famous TV presenter Raffaella Carrà …
The delegation from Tirol gave the pope another, smaller Christmas tree to be erected in his private chambers. This tree was decorated by Tirol-natives Helma Poggini and Ingeborg Miotti who both were married in Italy. The tree was adorned with handmade ornaments made by handicapped children at Elisabethinum in Axams near Innsbruck. Moreover, the pope was given a nativity scene elaborately carved out from 200 years old Tirol stone pine tree wood by farmer and innkeeper Hermann Wildauer from Zillertal Valley.
News of the Tirolean Christmas Tree in Vatican City travelled the world—it was even reported in Japan. Since then, the offering of a Christmas tree to the Pope has become an honour and each year the Vatican accepts a homegrown tree donated by a different European country. The spruce tree for 2016 will come from the region of Trentino in northern Italy. Still installed in the base that was brought to Vatican City with the first foreign Christmas tree from Tirol more than 30 years ago.