Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country, with the rest being primarily Hindu and Muslim. Just 7.4 of Sri Lankans are Christian, 82 percent being Roman Catholic. So, it is remarkable that what is claimed to be the world’s largest Christmas tree, towering at 325 feet, is rising over Galle Face in Colombo, the country’s capital. Even more remarkably, the tree was almost not erected because of the objections of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo. Ranjith’s position was that the money being spent on the edifice should better be spent helping the poor and those in need.

For a time it looked like the tree would not go up.

However, the prime minister and finance minister prevailed upon Cardinal Ranjith to give the project the go-ahead. So, using volunteer labor and donated materials, the Christmas tree is going ahead.

The tree will be impressive by any standard. It will consist of a million hand painted metal pine cones colored red, gold, blue, and silver. The tree will be illuminated by 800,000 twinkling LED lights. The edifice will be topped by a 20-foot star and will have a 20 foot Santa complete with sleigh and reindeer nearby. The tree will use 3,000 liters of paint, 30 metric tons of metal piping, and 2,500 meters of metal mesh. The whole will be bolted to a foundation to keep it standing straight even in a stiff breeze.

Why would a country that is overwhelmingly non-Christian spend so much time and effort building the tallest Christmas tree in the world?

The answer seems to be that the tree is a symbol of unity for the island nation. In recent memory, an ethnic-based insurgency took the lives of between 60,000 and 100,000 Sri Lankans over a 25 year period before being put down.

The 2004 tsunami killed 35,000 people.

The Christmas message of peace and goodwill among people has become universal in some parts of the world, even in places like Iraq and Sri Lanka where Christians are few and far between. The thought is an appealing one in a world where too much evil, natural and human-caused, seems to prevail.

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