Well, the stolen "wishing tree" has been found, and all is well once again in the Galleria Umberto. As noted in another entry, the tradition of the Christmas tree is a relatively recent one in southern Italy, yet it is already an established practice to erect one or two of them in the gallery. They then become not just Christmas trees, but "wishing trees"—that is, people write wishes on slips of paper and put them in the branches of the tree. This is in keeping with an age-old similar ritual with religious statues and some monuments in the city. When they restored the statue in Piazzetta Nilo some years ago, a number of such scraps of paper were found wedged in the cracks.
This year, a local businessman, Antonio Barbaro, donated two 25-foot silver pines to the gallery. The other night, one of them was snatched away at midnight by a band of a dozen kids who hauled it two blocks away into the rough Spanish Quarter of the city. They cops found the tree a few hours later and called Barbaro. He said it had just been a prank by some teenagers who wanted a Christmas tree. "Leave it there," he said. "I grew up in that quarter. They have some wishes of their own to put in the tree." He replaced the tree in the gallery.
Yesterday I stood at the tree in the Gallery reading the wishes. Some of the slips of paper are addressed to "Babbo Natale"—Father Christmas. Some are to "Baby Jesus". Almost none of them are for personal gain—no "please give me a motor scooter" sort of thing. Many of the wishes are broadly benevolent—peace in the world, no war, make next year better than this one, etc. Some are simple, personal and heart-rending—"Please make my mother well again." One was delightful: "We're in love and don't need anything else, but thanks anyway!" One was outrageously alien to the spirit of the season: "Please kill Berlusconi [the Prime Minister of Italy] and get Naples back in the 'A League' [the top division in Italian soccer]."
After the holidays, the
"best" wishes will be printed in book format and sold.
This year, the proceeds will go to a fund to combat
Ho-ho-humbug. Ah, the old Christmas traditions of Naples: the bagpipes, the presepe, Eduardo's play, Natale in Casa Cupiello, and now that the Galleria Umberto has been spruced up, once again the ritual sprucing down has come to pass. Yes, benefactors put up the traditional Christmas tree in the gallery and malefactors stole it (!) almost immediately. This has happened before, but you don't just tuck a giant tree under your arm and walk off with it. They used a truck. Here's an idea. Why not put a couple of guards on it, helped out by vicious, snarling 300-pound Neapolitan mastiffs? Help Santa take a bite out of crime. The good news is that a few days later the cops went and got the tree back from the Spanish Quarter, the same place they found the tree the last time it was stolen. It is now back in full service, its branches gathering the scribbled wishes of the hopeful. BUT...(drumroll!)(Jan 9) Unfortunately the tree is gone again. Last night, the treenappers returned. This time, it was in connection with the wood hunting, gathering & stealing in preparation for the upcoming bonfires on the feast day for St. Anthony. The more wood you can collect, the bigger the bonfire you can build. Anyway, the Christmas season is over and the tree was getting scruffy. It was going to wind up in a fire eventually, so why not mine?