Who could ever imagine that a quiet medieval Umbrian hilltown – not even on the railroad line – would merit a place in the Guinness Book of World Records? Gubbio did it with Albero di Natale più grande del mondo. Not long after dark on December 7th – vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – thousands of excited Eugubini gather in Gubbio’s largest piazza, eyes on Mount Ingino backdropping the town, as the lights are lit on the World’s Largest Christmas Tree (Guinness World Records, 1991).
The mountain twinkles in the myriad colors of over 800 enormous light bulbs linked together with more than 10,000 meters of cable, forming the shape of the Albero di Natale. Gubbio may be medieval in its architectural splendor but this limestone hilltown gem is forward-looking in its ecological outlook: as of 2010, solar energy illuminates l’Albero piu’ Grande stretched out on the mountain slope, about 900 m. high and topped with a shining comet star, its shimmering tail about a kilometer long. The Tree stays lit until January 10th.
For thirty years now, the lighting of the Gubbio Christmas tree has ignited the holiday spirit here in Gubbio, thanks to three months of work prior by hundreds of volunteers, the Alberaioli. For them – and for all the Eugubini – the Tree is seen as the glorification of their patron saint, Sant-Ubaldo, twelfth century bishop of Gubbio buried in the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo at the top of Mt. Ingino, where the comet star crowns l’Albero piu’ Grande. Although the outline of the Tree remains permanently on the mountain, each year thousands of plugs to connect, and thousands of kilometers of cables and hundreds of lights to check keep the volunteer workers scrambling the woods on Mt. Ingino for weeks.
For this thirtieh anniversary year, an “Albero dell’Artista” art show opened the day before the Tree illumination and will close in mid-December with a benefit auction for the Associazione Spirit Gubbio which provides riding therapy for disabled children. All over Gubbio, over seventy artists from around the world display their creations which must incorporate – as much as possible – recycled and environmentally-friendly materials. The show opened with music by the Santa Claus Rhythym Orchestra of Gubbio, a walking band of numerous young local Babbo Natale, all bearded and decked out in red.
I remember annual trips years ago with our children to see the Gubbio Albero piu’ Grande – and for a treat, cioccolato caldo in the main piazza – but without the music of a Santa Claus marching band!
– and if the Pope lit that Albero, we never knew it. This year as darkness moved in on December 7th, the Gubbio choir, the city’s renowned crossbowers and Gubbio’s medieval banner-wavers kicked off the Albero piu’ Grande lighting ceremony. RAI Uno transmitted the pre-lighting festivities and aferwards, the long-awaited moment: at 6 30 pm, Mt. Ingino glittered in kaleidoscope splendor in a star-topped fir tree form. Pope Benedict XVI had lit the Tree from his Vatican apartment, thanks to a SONY tablet!
…and so the modern moves in on the medieval.