Vatican City - The Vatican on Friday lit its traditional Christmas tree which, Pope Benedict XVI said, had been felled "without damaging the forest environment".

On a cold and wet evening hundreds of bulbs shone amongst the gold and silver mirror-glass baubles and strands of tinsel that adorn the tree.

The 34-metre high Norwegian spruce is 93 years old and comes from Luson in Italy's northeastern Alpine region of Alto Adige.

Earlier, greeting a delegation from Alto Adige, Benedict explained that the spruce had "stood at an altitude of 1,500 metres and was cut down without damaging the forest environment."

It will stand next to the nativity scene at the centre of St Peter's Square until the end of the Christmas festivities, the pope said.

"The Christmas tree enriches the symbolic value of the nativity scene, which is a message of fraternity and friendship, an invitation to unity and peace, an invitation to make space for God in our life and society," Benedict added.

Apart from the main tree, authorities in Luson have also donated 50 smaller Christmas trees, which will be used to decorate various sites in the Vatican.

Benedict's predecessor the late Polish-born Pope John Paul II, in 1982 introduced the northern and eastern European custom of Christmas trees to the Vatican.

On Christmas Eve the Vatican, also in St Peter's Square, unveils its creche, or nativity scene, a greater-than-lifesize model depicting the birth of the baby Jesus, traditionally in a manger or cave.