Analysis: Increased anti-Christian vandalism during the Christmas season

Country: Italy

Date of incident: January 26, 2024

OIDAC Europe's analysis shows an increase of anti-Christian incidents over Christmas. Next to tightened security due to terrorism threats to some major churches in European cities, a high number of vandalism of nativity scenes in Italy is raising concerns.

Christmas 2023 has not been quiet and peaceful for all Christians around Europe. Terrorism warnings for Germany, Austria and Spain have led to Cologne’s Cathedral being closed outside church service hours and obligatory security screening for all believers attending Christmas Eve Mass as well as restricted security measures for Vienna’s Cathedral. Five suspects of a planned terrorist attack have been arrested in Germany in Austria. The police is suspecting an Islamist terrorist motive and a connection to the ISIS-K (Islamic State - Khorasan Province).

In other places across Europe, security surrounding Christmas events has been tightened amid a heightened terror threat of Islamic extremism. On December 5, European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, warned that Europe faces a “huge risk of terrorist attacks” over the Christmas holidays due to fallout from the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Besides these terrorism warnings around one of the most important Christian feasts, an increased number of acts of vandalism of Christian churches has occurred over the Christmas holidays. Besides arson attacks on churches in Austria, Germany and Croatia what stood out this Christmas season was an alarming number of vandalism of nativity scenes in Italy.

In previous years, OIDAC Europe has already recorded numerous cases of nativity scene vandalism during the Christmas season. For 2023, however, there is an unprecedented high number for Italy with more than 15 cases recorded by OIDAC Europe and some media reports indicating even several dozens of cases. In many cases, the figures of the nativity scenes have been beheaded like in Florence and Uboldo, often the figure of the Infant Jesus was specifically targeted, beheaded or smashed to pieces as has been reported from Gorla Maggiore, Alliste, Chiauci or Monfalcone or the whole nativity scene was completely destroyed like in Turin or Campogalliano.

Local communities, political leaders and police authorities have underlined that these acts were not just teenager jokes but revealed a strong and growing anti-Christian sentiment, of which these acts are a symptom. In Salò, where the statue of the Infant Jesus has been taken from the cradle and thrown into Garda Lake, the local firefighters’ association released a statement, reading: "This is obviously a gesture which goes beyond the normal understanding of social discomfort, of intolerance toward other forms of belief, but which falls squarely within a broader range of ignorance and outrageousness.”

While the root causes for the surge in attacks on nativity scenes in Italy remain uncertain and may be numerous, one potential factor might have been a law, which was passed shortly before Christmas, banning schools from modifying nativity scenes. According to the new regulation, “it will no longer be possible to cancel the nativity scene, Christmas, and Easter within Italian schools of all levels.” The bill has been controversially discussed and has raised strong opposition from the political left. While its direct impact remains uncertain, the increasingly polarised climate in Italy has been contributing to growing anti-Christian vandalism.

In any case, acts of vandalism of the sort that we have seen around Christmas, with figures of nativity scenes being beheaded and defaced, indicate a very concerning trend of anti-Christian sentiments across Europe. Looking at the images of figures of the Infant Jesus beheaded and torn to pieces do make one wonder what kind of attitude might lead to these acts. The recent attacks also reveal that symbols of the Christian faith are very deliberately chosen as targets of anti-religious aggression.