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Nativity scene in St Peter's Square

A few hundred people gathered for the annual lighting of the traditional Nativity scene and the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square.

Most visitors were not allowed inside due to COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier in the week, Pope Francis offered a message of hope during "this difficult period".

"As you can see in the square the Christmas tree has been erected and the crib is being prepared. These days, in many homes, these two symbols of Christmas are being prepared for the joy of children and adults. They are signs of hope, especially in this difficult period," the pope said.

The ceramic Nativity scene was donated to by the town of Castelli in central Italy. The 28-metre-high red spruce was donated by Slovenia.

The 54 artistic ceramic statues composing the nativity scene were created by the Art Institute of Castelli's teachers and students between 1965 and 1975.

It is a tradition for Pope Francis to visit the scene on New Year's Eve, but it's unclear if he will visit this year, due to the pandemic restrictions.