by Desmond O'Grady in Rome
THE CRIB which John Paul II inaugurated in St Peter's Square on Christmas Eve is an innovation for the Vatican. It is only for the past three years that the huge crib, with its life-like, seasoned figures has been erected in the Square each Christmas.
It fits in with Roman traditions: Christmas in Rome means cribs. Not only churches but department stores, the Central Railway Station and the sweeping Spanish Steps Display Tableaux of the nativity scene. Some are extremely elaborate with a moving star guiding the three wise men towards the crib.
Churches advertise that they have constructed the most amazing, life-like crib that has ever been seen.
Wooden, earthenware or plastic oxen,angels and other figures for the cribs, which are composed also in most homes, can be acquired in many places but particularly in Piazza Navona. This vast elliptical piazza which was a racetrack at the time of the Emperor Domitian, is filled with stalls at Christmas which gives it the air of a country fair. On twelfth night, the feast of the Epiphany, an old woman known as the Befina distributes charcoal to bad children at Piazza Navona as in most homes.