Rome’s Christmas-Tree Controversy

Why has it become so difficult for the City of Rome to erect a Christmas tree in the center of town? It’s not just tourists who have been left scratching their heads the last couple of years; Romans have been hopping mad about both the ugly trees and the exorbitant costs involved in transporting them to the Italian capital.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when and why this started, but let’s go back to 2016, when the city’s main Christmas tree was declared by many residents to be “The Ugliest Tree in the World.” You can read about it, and see photos of that year’s pitiful evergreen here.

But it’s all relative!  Next year’s disaster made the 2016 tree look pretty good by Christmas tree 2017comparison. Transported to Rome from the northern Trentino region, it was evidently damaged somehow along the way, and arrived looking like it had been through a war–and lost. Romans quickly dubbed it Spelacchio, which roughly translates to “big old mangy-looking thing,” with many locals declaring that it looked like a toilet brush. It was losing its needles long before its scheduled take-down date of January 7, the day after Epiphany. Technically, the tree itself was a donation to the city of Rome, but the city had to pay to erect and maintain it. And the cost to Rome’s overburdened taxpayers for this pathetic thing? Nearly 50,000 Euros.

Needless to say, this year’s tree was under a lot of pressure to perform, whether it realized it or not. The 2018 Christmas tree is being paid for by Netflix, which is said to be spending nearly 400,000 Euros on the tree itself, its decorations, and the energy to light it. Unfortunately, it too got off to a really bad start. Really, really bad.

When the tree arrived in Piazza Venezia, it looked like this. Roman passersby L'albero di Natale a piazza Venezia, comincia l'allestimento di "Speraggio" L'albero di Natale a piazza Venezia, comincia l'allestimento di "Speraggio"immediately began shouting con- temptuously, “Here we go again!” For unknown reasons, many of the tree’s branches were sawed off for ease of transport, and were to be reattached here in Rome somehow. Not an auspicious beginning! Following in the footsteps of last year’s fiasco, it instantly received the name Spezzacchio, or “big old broken-up thing.” Roman wags took to twitter, declaring it even worse than last year’s tree: “What’s even sadder than a tree without needles? A tree without branches!” and “Last year’s tree was dead. This year’s tree wishes that it was.”

But when the 2018 tree was officially lighted on December 8 by the Mayor of Rome, the Christmas tree 2018 lightedcity’s residents were mollified–because it looks like this! It’s not clear how those sawed-off branches were “reattached,” but it seems to have worked, to the great relief of many exasperated Romans. In fact so far, locals are agreeing that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be … at least not yet.