On Dec. 9, 2023, the Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Basilica, along with the traditional Christmas tree lighting.

EWTN Vatican Bureau Chief Andres Thonhauser revealed the intricate details that went into creating this year's display based on its historic roots to Saint Francis of Assisi. 

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The highly-anticipated scene includes a traditional display of Mary, Joseph, and the donkey.

However, this year’s scene includes Saint Francis of Assisi and his brother Franciscans, paying homage to the creator of the first Nativity scene 800 years ago in Greccio, Italy.

The President of the Governorate of Vatican City State Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga presided over the ceremony.

Cardinal Alzaga is responsible for the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, as this year's tree, an 80-foot-tall fir, was donated from the northwest town of Macra.

Thonhauser noted that the tree is uniquely adorned with edelweiss flowers. After Christmas, the wood will be used to make toys for children in need, a cause very dear to the Holy Father. 

Saint John Paul II initially began this Nativity scene tradition at the Vatican in 1982 and continues to be an annual tradition.

Though Saint Francis’s original Nativity scene included real animals and people, the one in Saint Peter’s Square features beautiful frescos and terracotta figures by Neapolitan sculptor Antonio Cantone. 

As CNA reported, the Nativity scene backdrop is a replica of the original fresco found in Greccio. On half of the fresco, Saint Francis kneels before the newborn Christ. On the other side, Mary feeds her son, while Saint Joseph looks to them in adoration.

In addition to this scene, a Franciscan friar is painted celebrating mass in the grotto while holding the body of Christ. Three Franciscan friars are also featured, whom Saint Francis had tasked with creating the first Nativity scene. 

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Vatican Nativity Scene / Daniel Ibáñez, EWTN Vatican Media

Over a thousand people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for this event, which included moments of catechesis and singing seasonal hymns. 

Both the Nativity scene and Christmas tree will remain on display until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 7, 2024.

Pope Francis pointed out that looking at the Nativity should move us to pray for peace in the Holy Land. 

On Saturday, December 9, Pope Francis stated,

“While we contemplate Jesus, God made man, small, poor, defenseless, we cannot help but think of the drama that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are experiencing, demonstrating to these brothers and sisters of ours, especially to children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support.”  
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