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CHRISTMAS
Pope Francis ushers in Christmas with message of ‘unconditional love’
Pope Francis ushered in Christmas on Wednesday for the world's 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying "God continues to love us all, even the worst of us".
Published: 25 December 2019 09:56 CET
“You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you,” the pontiff told crowds gathered at the Vatican for his Christmas Eve midnight mass.
The Argentinian also emphasized “unconditional” love, in a year that has seen the Pope move to combat silence surrounding paedophilia in the Roman Catholic church, which has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests around the world and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy.
Earlier this month, he removed a Pontifical secrecy rule, which critics said prevented priests and victims from reporting abuse, and in May passed a landmark measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse to report it to their superiors.
Francis will at noon on Wednesday give the traditional Christmas Day mass — his seventh — addressed to the world in front of St Peter's Square.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged in the biblical town of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
A few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus's birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Hundreds more gathered outside, watching on screens in the crisp air.
'Special greetings' to Gaza
But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of the some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to Church leaders in the Holy Land.
At midnight bells rang out throughout the town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, led hymns and said prayers.
“At Christmas all the world looks to us, to Bethlehem,” he said. “Special greetings to our brothers and sisters in Gaza, with whom I celebrated Christmas two days ago,” he added.
Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel's separation barrier to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, said after his arrival that it was a difficult time but there was reason for hope.
“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.
“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”
Earlier on Christmas Eve, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a giant Christmas tree.
“The church is beautiful and it puts what we know in the Bible (in) place,” said Laneda, an American tourist visiting the site.
“Everything is just very meaningful.” French Catholics endured a sad moment as Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was unable to hold Christmas Eve Mass for the first time since 1803 — after a fire ravaged its structure in April.
In the Philippines, a majority Catholic country, typhoon Phanfone brought a wet and miserable Christmas Day to millions, many of them stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres.
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Five of Italy’s most magical Christmas markets in 2021
Even though Covid cases are rising in Italy, most of the country's Christmas markets will open to spread some festive cheer and fill our hearts (and bellies) with glad tidings. Here's a rundown of five of Italy's most magical Christmas markets.
Published: 17 November 2021 17:40 CET
Updated: 28 November 2021 07:57 CET
The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021. Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash
In 2020, many Christmas markets in Italy had to close or were scaled back because of the pandemic restrictions. This year, at least at the time of writing, lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks.
Some have safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing and the requirement to show a green pass, so remember to check the rules before you travel.
READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?
While most of the larger and more famous Christmas markets are in the north of Italy, smaller markets and other seasonal events are held in towns and cities all over the country.
With that said, here are five of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Italy that count among our favourites.
Photo by cmophoto.net on Unsplash
Trento, Trentino–Alto Adige
‘I mercatini di Trento’ is one of Italy’s most famous Christmas markets. Set in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Austria and Switzerland, Trento is full of that mountainous frosty glee that warms the cockles of your heart.
Every year, visitors are attracted by the artisanal goods, the abundant offering of seasonal gastronomical treats and the cosy atmosphere of a historic centre decked out in twinkling lights.
More and more stalls come to Trento each year, meaning there’s always something new to see, buy and eat every time you go.
The city’s two main squares welcome visitors with their cosy lodges, where you can watch live demonstrations and listen to traditional music. And with the snow-peaked backdrop and fresh air, Trento puts on a Christmas market to remember.
Trento Christmas market runs from November 20th to January 9th.
READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?
Christmas decorations on display in a market in central Bolzano. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP
Bolzano, South Tyrol
Another Christmas market not to be missed in the north of Italy is the spectacular display in Bolzano, arguably one of the most beautiful in Italy.
This festive extravaganza located in the region of South Tyrol is claimed to be Italy’s biggest Christmas market and, after almost two decades of the event, always has something new to delight return visitors.
New for 2021 are some stalls dedicated to grappa and beer with tastings of South Tyrolean spirits and craft beers, while for wine lovers, there’s a dedicated wine lodge offering tastings of the local labels.
Those delicious yuletide aromas of pine, cinnamon and mulled wine fill the streets, while squares are bathed in a romantic glow when the stalls come to town and transform the city into a spellbinding winter wonderland.
What better time to sample a local strudel, feast on some salty speck or indulge in some alpine homemade sweets?
The big Christmas tree in the central Piazza Walther will be lit up on Thursday November 25th to launch the market, which will remain open until January 6th.
Christmas lights during the “Luci d’Artista” (Artist’s Lights of Salerno) (Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP)
Salerno, Campania
The northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s best Christmas markets, however.
One of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events can be found in the southern region of Campania: the illuminations called Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) in Salerno.
After being cancelled last year, the display is back for 2021 offering visitors a show of real works of art made in lights.
Due to the pandemic measures, access to the city will be restricted, especially on weekends when buses will be limited.
Strolling around the city, you can see this world-famous spectacle as you go, while also taking a tour of the Christmas markets, located on the city’s seafront. All in all, it makes for an unusually marvellous Christmas shopping experience right on the coast.
The lights will run from November 26th until January 30th.
Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash
Verona, Veneto
How much more romantic and magical can you get than a Christmas market in Italy’s city of love? In fact, the market’s organisers describe Verona as, “The city of love, the city of Christmas”.
Even Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy lights up with the seasonal colours, sounds and smells. The city’s streets and squares transform into a dreamy setting for festive shopping and socialising: handicraft products in glass, wood, ceramics and many food and wine specialities tempt and delight.
The entrance to the city will be illuminated by hundreds of lights, creating what they call “a Champs Elysees effect”, continuing through all the streets of the historic centre. All the sparkles and glow are set against a backdrop of the famous Roman Arena and the unmissable Christmas star in front.
There will be more than 100 exhibitors this year and for 2021, the market will run in collaboration with the “Christkindlmarkt” of Nuremberg in Germany, bringing a heartwarming fairy-tale atmosphere to the fair city.
Verona’s Christmas market will run from November 12th to December 26th.
Photo by Christian Della Torre on Unsplash
Como, Lombardy
The lake setting and Christmas atmosphere make this a unique festive market you’ll look back on for years to come – and where better to get excited about the exchanging of Christmas gifts than Italy’s so-called city of toys ‘la città dei balocchi‘?
Starting with the Magic Light festival, its projections and lights transform the city’s building and squares into an open-air gallery. Meanwhile, delightful wooden huts create a Christmas village, offering local specialities, gifts and mouthwatering dishes.
There are also numerous refreshment and tasting points giving visitors the chance to sample menus typical of the area. And the unmissable giant ferris wheel is worth a whirl too.
If you want to work off some of those festive chocolates, waffles and gingerbread hearts, you can get your cheeks rosy at the ice rink in Piazza Cavour.
Plus, you can’t miss (literally) the traditional Christmas fir tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.
Como’s Christmas market runs from November 27th to January 6th.
Where are your favourite Christmas markets in Italy? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below. 
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