Glimpses of Christmas Past: Photos from Rome 2017

Joe and Patricia Gartman have spent the Christmas seasons from 2017 to 2019 in Italy. Here are photos from their time in Rome in 2017.

Bulgari's glass tree on the Spanish StepsWhen the City of Rome’s official Christmas tree – a72-foot Norway spruce from Trentino – was erected in Piazza Venezia on the 8th of November, it was shockingly bare of foliage.

While City officials and the supplier debated over liability, Romans christened the poor tree “Spelacchio”, which translates as something like “Old Baldy”.

Pretty soon Spelacchio had its own Twitter account, which had more followers, it was said, than the tree had needles.

Spelacchio Christmas tree

Epiphany is the 12th day after Christmas. On Epiphany Eve, the 5th of January, La Befana flies from house to house on her broomstick, leaving sweets for good children and coal for the naughty ones.

She also apparently paints faces at her festival in Rome’s Piazza Navona (from early December to the 6th of January).

La Bafina's Brooms for sale

In 2017 there was a carousel, a puppet show, balloons, carnival games, and lots of booths selling traditional items, like miniature presepe figures for home Nativity scenes (very popular in Italy).

Other vendors were selling decorated scopette scacciaguai – little Befana brooms that sweep away last year’s troubles!

As if to compensate, Bulgari, the luxury jewellers, erected a stunning golden glass “tree” on the top level of the Spanish Steps, just below the Trinità dei Monti church.

lights on via condotti

Via Condotti, where Bulgari began business in 1905, leads directly away from the steps, and the scintillating golden lights above the street looked suspiciously like jewellery.

Of course, there were also spectacular lights above many other streets, including Via del Corso and Via del Babuino.

7 Acts of mercy presepe

In 1982, Pope John Paul II began the tradition of installing a large presepe in the centre of St Peter’s Square every Christmas season.

In 2017, besides Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the theme was “The Seven Acts of Mercy”: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering travellers, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead.

Words by Joe Gartman, Photos by Patricia Gartman.

See more photos of Italy in our archive.