A young woman in a dirndl - the traditional Tyrolean dress lit up a towering Christmas tree in a festive ceremony in St. Peter's Square Friday evening.
A choir and band in feathered hats, decorated jackets and leather pants played rousing tunes in the brisk air.
Christmas songs were sung in German, Italian and Ladino, the ancient language of the Val Badia - a valley in the Dolomites in South Tyrol, or Alto Adige, region of northern Italy - where the tree was cut down.
Another centerpiece in the square is a life-sized Nativity scene, which was still being set up Friday. It will be unveiled Christmas Eve, to mark Jesus' birth.
Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict XVI, greeting pilgrims from the Val Badia, said the fir tree was a "meaningful symbol" of Christmas, "because with its leaves, ever green, it recalls life which does not die."