World’s tallest Christmas tree symbolizes Sri Lanka’s religious harmony
By T. S. Thomas
Colombo: A giant Christmas tree erected by Buddhists in Colombo stands as a monument of peace and unity in Sri Lanka recovering from decades of civil war, several people say.
Oblate Father Lal Pushpadeva Fernando, director of the Catholic National Commission for Social Communications, says the giant Christmas tree has attracted people of all faiths and it stands as a symbol of unity in the island nation.
“It is certainly an achievement for Sri Lanka, when several well to do countries never attempted it,” the priest told Matters India on January 6.
Charith Suranga, a Buddhist leader, says he is proud about the world’s tallest Christmas tree was erected in Sri Lanka.
“Years of ethnic violence had disrupted and divided people in the country, but this Christmas has powerfully conveyed the message that we are still one country and one community,” he told Matters India.
Arjuna Ranatunga, a former cricket player and the minister of ports and shipping, said the Christmas tree was erected just to show the world that “we can live as one country, one nation. He also said his country still is still grappling with issues regarding religion, caste and race.
The organizers of the 73-meter (238 feet) artificial Christmas tree claimed it is 18 meters (59 feet) taller than the current record holder which was in China.
The tree’s steel-and-wire frame is covered with a plastic net and decorated with more than 1 million natural pine cones which were painted red, gold, green and silver.
The tree was illuminated by more than 600,000 LED bulbs and a 6-meter shining star placed at the top of the tree, which took nearly five months work by more than 150 workers and several volunteers.
Thousands of people have flocked to a Christmas carnival besides the Christmas tree in the Galle Face beach, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass when he visited Sri Lanka in January 2015.
Fernando appreciated the Buddhist community for what he said was a gesture of harmony and peace. However, he also expressed apprehension about the huge expenses incurred which he says should have spent for some social welfare programs.
Earlier, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, spiritual head of more than 1.5 million Catholics in Sri Lanka, also commented about the lavish spending on this Christmas tree. “This money would have been better spent on the poor instead,” he told journalists when asked for his comments during a press conference held in connection with the recent Asian Bishops plenary meet in Colombo.
The total estimated cost of the tree was around US$ 80,000 and organizers claimed the entire money was raised through donations and sponsorships. The government also supported the project partially.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe supported the project saying the tree was not being built with public money, but with donations from individuals and private firms.
However, the cardinal’s comment on “wasteful expenditure” had upset the organizers who stopped the work for six days in December, but a lot of money was already spent by then and was decided to complete the work.
However, most Sri Lankans seemed happy and proud about the giant Christmas tree. The tree, they asserted, symbolized peace and harmony after years of civil war in the country.
Charith noted that Christmas trees, cribs, Santa Claus, stars, illuminations, and decorations are seen everywhere in Sri Lanka.
Mohamad Sherief, a driver, said his family has visited the tree and the Christmas carnival several times and it is a wonderful sign of unity and reconciliation. “This tree stand as a symbol of harmony and we are no longer haunted by years of discrimination in this country,” he said.
The Sri Lankan organizers said they wanted the tree to help promote ethnic and religious harmony in the Buddhist-majority island nation.