Well, the stolen "wishing tree" has been found, and all is well once again in the Galleria Umberto. As noted in another entry, the tradition of the Christmas tree is a relatively recent one in southern Italy, yet it is already an established practice to erect one or two of them in the gallery. They then become not just Christmas trees, but "wishing trees"—that is, people write wishes on slips of paper and put them in the branches of the tree. This is in keeping with an age-old similar ritual with religious statues and some monuments in the city. When they restored the statue in Piazzetta Nilo some years ago, a number of such scraps of paper were found wedged in the cracks.
This year, a local businessman, Antonio Barbaro, donated two 25-foot silver pines to the gallery. The other night, one of them was snatched away at midnight by a band of a dozen kids who hauled it two blocks away into the rough Spanish Quarters of the city. They cops found the tree a few hours later and called Barbaro. He said it had just been a prank by some teenagers who wanted a Christmas tree. "Leave it there," he said. "I grew up in that area. They have some wishes of their own to put in the tree." He replaced the tree in the gallery.
Yesterday I stood at the tree in the Gallery reading the wishes. Some of the slips of paper are addressed to "Babbo Natale"—Father Christmas. Some are to "Baby Jesus". Almost none of them are for personal gain—no "please give me a motor scooter" sort of thing. Many of the wishes are broadly benevolent—peace in the world, no war, make next year better than this one, etc. Some are simple, personal and heart-rending—"Please make my mother well again." One was delightful: "We're in love and don't need anything else, but thanks anyway!" One was outrageously alien to the spirit of the season: "Please kill Berlusconi [the Prime Minister of Italy] and get Naples back in the 'A League' [the top division in Italian soccer]."
After the holidays, the "best" wishes will be printed in book format and sold. This year, the proceeds will go to a fund to combat genetic disease.
Ho-ho-humbug. Ah, the old Christmas traditions of Naples: the bagpipes, the presepe, Eduardo's play, Natale in Casa Cupiello, and now that the Galleria Umberto has been spruced up, once again the ritual sprucing down has come to pass. Yes, benefactors put up the traditional Christmas tree in the gallery and malefactors stole it (!) almost immediately. This has happened before, but you don't just tuck a giant tree under your arm and walk off with it. They used a truck. Here's an idea. Why not put a couple of guards on it, helped out by vicious, snarling 300-pound Neapolitan mastiffs? Help Santa take a bite out of crime. The good news is that a few days later the cops went and got the tree back from the Spanish Quarters, the same place they found the tree the last time it was stolen. It is now back in full service, its branches gathering the scribbled wishes of the hopeful. BUT...(drumroll!)
(Jan 9) Unfortunately the tree is gone again. Last night, the treenappers returned. This time, it was in connection with the wood hunting, gathering & stealing in preparation for the upcoming bonfires on the feast day for St. Anthony. The more wood you can collect, the bigger the bonfire you can build. Anyway, the Christmas season is over and the tree was getting scruffy. It was going to wind up in a fire eventually, so why not mine?
(Dec 1) The "Wishing Tree" for Christmas is already up in the Galleria Umberto and collecting bescribbled scraps of paper in its branches. Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that besides the interesting and syncretistic "new tradition" of ornamenting the northern European Christmas tree with southern Italian votive bits of paper, another tradition has arisen over the last few years (feel free to wipe away a tear or two) —stealing the tree, itself! This year, the city says things will be different. The tree is firmly anchored and will be well-guarded, 24/7. But I still wouldn't bet against the treenappers.
This year's tree is up and full of wishes. As you may note above, almost all of them are benevolent and cheerful messages for the holiday season and the new year. The photo on the right is of this year's tree. As is customary, when the tree is taken down, the notes will be collected and printed in book format with the proceeds from sales going to charity. The very first note I looked at (photo insert) was typical of the cheer and good-nature contained on these magical little shreds of paper. It said:
Dear Babbo Natale, [Father Christmas]
At the venerable age if 16, I now know that, unfortunately, you do not really exist, but since I have always been a tenacious fan of yours, I want to keep on believing in you! [Smiley face!]" [Very sharp 16-year-old. Old enough to be a cynic, but wise enough to cover all her bases. Good for her!] So I ask you to bring lots of nice Christmas gifts to all the children who await you, and if you have time, you can drop something off for me, too. I still love you, and dress warm because it's cold at the North Pole. Kisses [heart-smiley]. M
I'd like to see them put this up in the Bay of Naples. They wouldn't dare. They know what would happen. This is what they are calling the "largest Christmas Tree in the World." "They" are the folks of the town of Castiglione del Lago in the province of Perugia in Umbria in central Italy. The Christmas tree (image) is on the waters of that lake. The tree is one km "high" (long) and the lights are not floating on the water; they are embedded in the shallow lake bottom separately, each on its own pole. The town installed it as an act of one-up-treesmanship to show the nearby town of Gubbio that the puny tree of theirs on the mountainside is not a big deal. THIS is a big deal! Why, you'd need a large fleet of motor scooters from Naples, each bearing two punks with scuba-gear to... Achtung! Achtung! ... a large fleet of motor scooters from Naples, each bearing two punks with scuba-gear has just been sighted near the lake. Stand by to repel treenappers!
Many thanks and Merry Christmas to Suzy Toll for the photo!
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When You Wish Upon a Tree
"Wishing trees" now crop up in various places around the city. Case in point: the entrance to the Fredrick II university. As expected, college kids stick their little slips of paper on the branches. A lot of it is run-of-the mill: someone wants Naples to win the soccer league championship. Ho-hum. A few young lovers want peace on earth and good will towards them. Fine. I wish them the best. Now it gets interesting: here's a note that says "Voglio solo un po' di sciorta". "Sciorta" means luck. The kid is saying, "I just want some luck ... just a break ...I'll make it." Best of those that I saw is this one, written in the unabashed optimism of youth. He or she doesn't want a thing. The note says: "Thank you for this life I have." That one is hard to top.