Christmas held a special place in the heart of Padre Pio, as author Colm Keane explains in his book Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint.
In 1959, Padre Pio sent a letter to his Irish benefactors wishing them a happy Christmas. The letter was sent to Limerick devotee Gerry Fitzgerald, who had it published in the press. At the core of the letter was a very simple sentiment offering his Irish followers “an incessant flow of blessings” and wishing them “a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year”.
The message was a warm, thoughtful one, especially coming as it did from Padre Pio. No one adored Christmas more than him. It was his favourite time of the year. The story of the Nativity, where the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, often moved him to tears. “In the end, the gamble of our life is all in this child,” he used to say.
As a boy, Padre Pio loved preparing the crib, often constructing it many months in advance. Coming from a very poor family, he would mould clay from the fields into miniature shepherds, animals and other crib figures. He always took extra effort with the baby Jesus, making sure he was right. He would also put oil into little shells and use them as tiny lanterns to light the crib.