Rome’s official Christmas tree is needled for heavy shedding

Rome's official Christmas tree, left, in Piazza Venezia is losing its needles while the one in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican is relatively full.
(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

Christmas trees are lighting up city centers around the world this week, bringing festive joy to millions — except in Rome, where locals are mourning a mangy tree that will not stop shedding needles.

Ten days after it was installed in the central Piazza Venezia, the city’s 65-foot spruce is looking anything but festive, with nearly bare branches giving it a skeletal look and earning it the nickname “Spelacchio,” or Threadbare.

Now, with the tree clearly dying fast, Romans have turned sleuth to discover who killed Spelacchio, with many pointing their finger at Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, who was elected last year with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Despite promising a new start for the traffic-clogged city, Raggi is already under fire for failing to improve streets filled with uncollected trash and riddled with potholes.

“My thoughts are with Spelacchio, the poor Christmas tree that has died of sadness and lack of care under Five Star rule,” posted Giorgia Meloni, head of the hard-right Brothers of Italy party.

A City Hall spokesman suggested it was not the city’s fault.


“All felled trees without their roots have a brief life, but I would admit this one is not well,” he said. “It was probably the transport, or maybe it was already sick, or born like this.”

Photos appear to show that the tree was in good health before it was felled in Fiemme in the Alps in northern Italy. There are also suspicions that it was harmed or left unprotected during its long truck ride to Rome.

“When it left here it was in good health, it was perfect,” a forestry official in Fiemme told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“In general, in those conditions, as has always happened, a spruce can easily last a month, a month and a half,” he added.

Suspicions have focused on the transport firm used by the city to truck the tree to Rome, amid reports it was hired without a competitive bid and paidabout $59,000 for the job, far higher than the price last year.

The Five Star Movement currently leads national polls heading into elections in March, but Raggi’s rule in Rome has damaged the party’s reputation.

“The surreal Spelacchio affair shows how the Five Star Movement is even incapable of putting up a Christmas tree — imagine them governing Italy,” said Enzo Foschi, a regional official with the center-left Democratic Party.

Romans have reacted with ridicule on social media, with a Facebook page announcing a funeral for Spelacchio at Piazza Venezia drawing thousands of likes, while many have taken pity on the tree. Spelacchio now even has a Twitter account with thousands of followers.

And some in Rome have even taken to bringing flowers to the “dying” tree.

When city officials draped it with a large amount of baubles and lights to make up for its forlorn appearance, the account tweeted, “800 balls and 4,000 meters of lights, now I’ve got a backache from all these damn balls.”

Seeking to see the bright side, Five Star city official Paolo Ferrara said, “The Christmas tree is beautiful by night,” adding, “Go and see it, the lights are wonderful.”

Italian consumer group Codacons was not impressed, calling for an investigation into the thousands of euros spent and stating the tree “represents a shameful spectacle for citizens and tourists.”

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the city’s environmental assessor said Raggi’s team was digging in its heels. Asked if Spelacchio would be put out of its misery and replaced before Christmas, she said, “No, absolutely no removal.”


Kington is a special correspondent.