It has a nickname and a Twitter handle followed by thousands of people, but Rome’s official Christmas tree is far from popular. In fact, Romans are furious about it.
The threadbare tree has been shedding needles since it was lit up on 8 December, the start of Rome’s Christmas season, in one of the city’s main squares, Piazza Venezia.
Despite the tree’s 600 silver-baubles, its half-bare branches lend the square a forlorn rather than festive look.
Since it was hoisted, the 20m (65ft) tree has drawn the scorn of Romans, who have dubbed it “Spelacchio”, or “Baldy”.
Some have likened it to a toilet brush or to a plucked chicken, while others called it the “world’s saddest Christmas tree”.
“It’s a disgrace. It hurts even to look at this Christmas tree,” one Roman resident said.
Many on Twitter have posted unflattering photos of Spelacchio next to the trees of other cities, with some noting that the one across town, the Vatican’s Christmas tree, appears healthy and festive.
But to many, the matter is serious: the tree is a symbol of the Italian capital’s decline, some have suggested, with critics attacking its unpopular mayor Virginia Raggi.
The tree cost €48,000 (£42,000) to transport from South Tyrol, an Italian Alpine region, to Rome. Now officials have even opened an investigation into why it is ailing.
For Italians perennially preoccupied with “la bella figura”, the tree represents an embarrassment for the capital.
“It is clearly dead and it is a shameful spectacle for citizens and tourists,” said the consumers’ group Codacons, calling for the investigation and asking that it be removed.
But the Rome city hall has said there are no plans to remove it.
Ms Raggi, a leading member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, has tried to shrug off the controversy, saying the tree had been decorated in a “simple and refined” fashion.
But the case added to the bad image of a city that has fallen into degradation, with streets full of pot holes, piles of rubbish and unkempt public gardens.
“We have a Christmas tree that won’t make it to Christmas”, said one Roman resident.