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Pope explains symbolism of Christmas tree December 20, 2004

During his Angelus audience on December 19, Pope John Paul II discussed the rich symbolism of the Christmas season, concentrating on the meaning of the Christmas tree that is now on display in St. Peter's Square.

The Christmas tree, John Paul said, is "an ancient custom that exalts the value of life," because the evergreen tree remains unchanged through the harshness of winter. When gifts are arranged under the tree, the Pope continue, it because a symbol of "the tree of life, a figure of Christ, God's greatest gift to all men."

The Holy Father made a point of saying that the gifts exchanged at Christmas should not be purely material and commercial. The "tree of life," he said, points the way toward an exchange of spiritual goods: of brotherhood and love.

The Pope observed, before making his remarks on the Christmas tree, that the most important symbol of the season is the Christmas crèche, about which he spoke at his previous Sunday public audience. His remarks on these symbols come at a time when the European nations-- particularly Italy and France-- are caught up in debates about the display of Christian symbols in public places.

At the conclusion of his December 20 public appearance, the Pope acknowledged different groups that had attended the audience, giving a special warm greeting to a group of 40 young students, aged 4 through 12, who had survived the harrowing hostage September terrorist incident in Beslan.

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