On Monday, December 7, the day of Saint Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, 21 Christmas trees were illuminated in in the city as part of the “Christmas of the Trees” project conceived by Marco Balich and donated to the municipality by the Braco Foundation.
It has been the longest year of our lives, and while we may not have thought much about it during this pandemic, Christmas is coming again.
In recent years I have always gone out to photograph the Lombard city of Milan at what I found to be its most beautiful and symbolic moment of the year, Christmastime. I liked to do this at night, in the lonely hours of the night, when its streets were empty, quiet, and illuminated for the season. These photography sessions always transported me to a deep state of happiness, where I felt artistically fulfilled. I kept my memories of those times with me all year, and the silence and lights of those nights and streets always represented peace and harmony to me.
But as Milan and Lombardy were the first areas in Europe to be severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 I have had to learn to accept a different kind of Milan, a muted, sad, and turned-off Milan.
On Monday, December 7, the day of Saint Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, 21 Christmas trees were illuminated in in the city as part of the “Christmas of the Trees” project conceived by Marco Balich and donated to the municipality by the Bracco Foundation. Because it is a different Christmas this year, the lights that have returned to Milan do so to illuminate us with hope and to give us confidence again. They are also perhaps the best tribute to those we have lost to the virus. As Balich expressed, the Christmas of the Trees is Milan’s way of showing us that in spite of the crisis, the city perseveres with a sustainable, collective and participatory vision of the future.
The 21 trees, each with a different designer, start from the city center with the Albero del Dono in Plaza del Duomo and go outwards towards the periphery. They give new life to different spots around the city, spreading their cheer across the whole of it, and in doing so also reduce the risk of large crowds gathering in one place.
The Albero del Dono, the “Tree of the Gift”, in the Plaza del Duomo, is a reminder of the importance of giving. Its sponsor, Coca.Cola, collaborated with the local food bank to help those in need and provide food to two million people. This large tree is surrounded by 18 small living trees that will be planted after Christmas, leaving a green legacy to the city. Hundreds of lights, many pointing towards the sky, make the installation visible from different places across Milan, and make visible the living energy of the heart of the city.
"Milano si dirama" is the slogan of the tree project, meaning "Milan branches out", and reaches its residents. The “rame” of the verb “diramare”, to “branch out”, are the branches of the Christmas trees that, according to the municipality, reach each citizen who decorates them and gives light to the city.
On Monday the 7th, I couldn’t wait to get to the Plaza del Duomo, the place I visited alone so many days and nights in 2020. Together with many other people under a heavy rain and maintaining social distance, we took in the light of this "Tree of the Gift" that gives us the hope that we all need right now.
English text by Meredith Brunel