Illumination at the Duomo
It was about 6:30 on a Sunday evening and I thought I was merely going to a champagne-tasting I had been told of. As it turned out, I came up out of the subway into a massive, standing-room-only crowd that filled the Piazza del Duomo in the center of Milan. Mini hot air balloons, about 2 feet tall and flame-fueled, were rising in the sky above the crowd and up over Milan’s jewel cathedral and the seemingly-just-as-tall, towering Christmas tree. Someone was filming the crowd’s responses and the video was being replayed on the building-sized, digital display facing the piazza. It was an energized, electric moment.
“Oh Holy Night”, a Christmas song I grew up with, was being broadcast out over the piazza; it would have inspired tears if I had let it.
“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!”
I saw the local police clustering, and then moving together through the crowd. A procession began a swath through the people and I asked someone who it was. (Of course they responded in Italian and I forget what they said.) Moments later, the crowd roared happily as the lights on the tree were illuminated for the first time. The stained glass windows of the Duomo were backlit from within, and it was all magical.
The tree was covered with 100,000 lights, and white pointsettias.
And I had just happened to have shown up at the right moment! There’s something wonderful about popping up out of the subway tunnels into the midst of pleasant surprises.
DECEMBER 8 UPDATE:
I just read that the floating lanterns are intended to be “luminous symbols that spread the Peace, Hope and Love of Christmas”. The Christmas Tree, guy-wired to a number of surrounding buildings, is 164 feet tall, the biggest Christmas Tree in Europe.
“L’inaugurazione ufficiale del Festival della Luce e l’accensione della città prenderanno il via domenica 6 dicembre alle ore 18.00 attraverso un grande evento di apertura in piazza Duomo con il lancio delle ‘lanterne di luce’, simboli luminosi che diffondono nell’aria del Natale la ‘pace’, la ‘speranza’ e l’‘amore’.
I tram di luce, con la loro scia luminosa, daranno il via alla manifestazione. Come scenografia, i fiori luminosi trasformeranno Piazzetta Reale in un prato verde di luce. A seguire l’accensione del grande Albero di Natale, il più alto abete luminoso d’Europa – oltre 50 metri – illuminato da centomila lampadine ad alto risparmio energetico – e l’illuminazione della Cattedrale attraverso un progetto firmato dai light designer Castagna&Ravelli in collaborazione con la Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, che dall’interno rivela lo splendore delle sue vetrate.”