Romans aghast at their 'toilet brush' Christmas tree

The city has come under fire for its tree this year.

ByABC News
December 21, 2017, 10:29 AM

Rome -- With an endless trash crisis and transportation woes, Romans haven’t found much to laugh about this year. Now they're up in arms over the city's Christmas tree, which is traditionally set up in the busy central square of Piazza Venezia.

This year’s specimen -- a 70-foot fir tree -- was installed Dec. 8 and decorated with 600 silver-colored balls. It promptly attracted attention for its shabby, sad look and half-bare branches. Almost immediately, the tree was dubbed "íl spelacchio" [the mangy one] and a Twitter site launched in its name was quickly flooded with comments.

Inauguration ceremony for the enlightenment of the Christmas tree and the nativity scene in St. Peter's square, Dec. 7, 2017, in Rome.
Raffaella Midiri via Newscom

Romans were aghast to learn the tree’s transport cost the money-strapped city over $57,000. Italian media quickly picked up on the negative feedback; one of Rome’s daily papers, Il Messaggero, declared it a national embarrassment, saying that "in Russia, they've dubbed our dying tree a 'toilet brush.'"

Mock funerals for the tree were intoned on social media. Il Tempo, another Rome daily, published the headline “Rest in Peace" above a picture of a Christmas tree lying down on the ground.

Even the weather man on a leading morning news program felt the need to give his opinion about the tree. He said the city of Rome should abandon this tradition of bringing a different felled tree to the square each year and instead plant a small one so that Romans can watch it grow each year.

A close up of branches of Rome's official Christmas tree, Dec. 19, 2017. Rome's official Christmas tree is losing so many needles so fast it has become a jolly joke for city residents.
Massimo Percossi/EPA

Troubled by the teasing, Rome's mayor, Virginia Raggi, has asked for an inquiry into why the tree looks the way it does. Experts have said it was probably because the rootless tree was not covered properly when transported from South Tyrol in northern Italy and may have suffered some sort of "trauma."

On Thursday Raggi tried to push blame for the tree away from the government. She said the tree had already been dead for some weeks and announced that the city would seek damages.

Despite the ridicule, the tree will not be removed from the piazza, according to Rome City environmental councillor, Pinuccia Montanari, who wrote on her Facebook page: “It will remain there, it has been lit up and decorated, and it is very suggestive.”

Across the Tiber River, at the Vatican, the 69-foot high-festive spruce positioned in St. Peter’s Square next to the nativity scene appears healthy, even though it made a 12-day journey from northern Poland.

While the Vatican’s tree is being admired for its cheer, the life-size nativity scene is raising eyebrows because of the naked, dead, imprisoned figures, which are meant to remind people to carry out acts of mercy to those in need.

The 69 foot high Christmas tree coming from Poland and a nativity scene are back dropped by St. Peter's Basilica after being lit in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Dec. 10, 2017, in Rome.
Massimiliano Migliorato/CPP/Polaris