« Christmas

Christmas in Vatican City, what to expect?

Gain a genuine and devout experience of Christmas celebration with a trip to the spiritual heart of Catholicism.

Published at Sat, June 1 2019 • Updated Fri, September 13 2019
A night vision of the St. Peter's Square with the illuminated Basilica and the decorated tree during Christmas.
© Giuseppe Milo / flickr [CC BY 2.0]
A night vision of the St. Peter's Square with the illuminated Basilica and the decorated tree during Christmas.

Things to do in Vatican during Christmas

Selection of practices followed in the city of Pope

A visitor of the Vatican can attend a series of rituals that can promise a unique religious experience. Catholics and visitors from all over the world have the opportunity to skip the widespread commercialized aspect of Christmas and observe on a way much closer to its’ roots.

Vatican Nativity Scene

The figures of the Vatican Nativity Scene (2009).
© Trishhhh / flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The figures of the Vatican Nativity Scene (2009).

The Nativity Scene is another element that takes its place at St. Peter’s square and signifies the beginning of Christmas festival on the 7th of December.

It consists of seventeen life-sized statues. Nice of them originates from a donation of 1843 by Saint Vincent Pallotti, while the others have been added during the following years.

In 2006 the local council of the village of Tesero (province of Trentino) has provided thirteen sculptured wooden figures of animals which are completing the scenery.

Vatican Christmas tree

St. Peter's Basilica and the decorated tree
© sunshinecity / flickr [CC BY 2.0]
St. Peter's Basilica and the decorated tree

Setting up a Christmas tree at St. Peter’s square has been a tradition since 1982 when John Paul the second was a Pope.

That tree had come to the Vatican as a gift of a Polish farmer and since then the northern European symbol of Christmas spirit has been introduced in the Vatican as well.

Every year the tree is erected on the 7th of January and stays until the 7th of January.

Midnight Mass, Christmas Eve

The altar of St. Peter's Basilica.
© Trishhhh / flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The altar of St. Peter's Basilica.

The Midnight Mass or Vigil Mass is definitely one of the major highlights of Christmas Festival in the Vatican.

Nowadays, it starts earlier than midnight (between 21:00 and 22:00) and is hosted in the at the Basilica of St. Peter.

Tickets to the Mass are sold many months in advance and for those who do not have the opportunity to get one, the Mass is broadcasted on big screens just outside the Cathedral at St. Peter’s square.

Christmas Day & “Urbi et Orbi”

Pope Benedict XVI at Urbi et Orbi day (2008).
© JialiangGao ww... / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Pope Benedict XVI at Urbi et Orbi day (2008).

Another opportunity for the pilgrims to see the Pope and get his blessing is to visit the St. Peter’s at the noon of Christmas Day.

Then, the pontificate gives his annual message to the city (of Rome) and the World “Urbi et Orbi”. The Pope comes out to the balcony of St. Peter for this annual ritual while the large crowds are waiting to hear his speech.

Tickets are not required for that unique event for the city of Vatican and Rome.


Novena is one of the earliest events taking place in the Vatican during the Christmas celebration period. Eight days prior to the festival, while in the streets of the city young musicians set the Christmas tone by singing Christmas songs, great numbers of people are gathering at the Vatican Square in order to receive the blessing of the Pope.

A panoramic view of St. Peter's square in Vatican.
© martineci999 / Pixabay
A panoramic view of St. Peter's square in Vatican.

Is Vatican the best destination for spiritual Christmas?

Vatican, which is the smallest sovereign country in the world, is the heart of worldwide Catholicism. This holy city, famous for its architectural wonders and religious significance host a great number of pilgrims and visitors during Christmas. The celebrations extend almost for 21 days and offer a unique opportunity for a spiritual approach to a celebration that is highly commercialized almost everywhere.

In a world where the Christmas celebration is highly commercialized and sometimes a bit away from the true meaning of the holiday, the Vatican offers an alternative! Being the spiritual heart of Catholicism, Vatican attracts thousands of believers who are seeking to observe an original Christmas feast. All them together with the pilgrimages and the spirit of the city, construct an outstanding Christmas destination that still remains away from the mass-tourism approach.

It is actually a unique opportunity for everyone to feel the spiritual aspect of Christmas by seeking its’ authentic and fundamental form. Many visitors who had the chance to be there during this period tend to describe Christmas celebration in the Vatican as a once in a lifetime experience!

— Read more —
The Swedish Christmas goat (Gävlebocken).
Distinctive Christmas traditions around the world
A Christmas snowman clothed in red implicating Santa's outfit.
Brief facts over the history of Christmas
A holy book opened at St. Lukes reference to the Nativity Scene.
Biblical and historical meaning of Christmas
A nativity scene with handmade figures featuring Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.
Roman Catholic Christmas traditions