Sri Lankans rush to build Christmas tree on time

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The goal has been to erect the world's tallest ar­ti­fi­cial Christmas tree, but Sri Lankan or­ga­niz­ers now say they'll be lucky to get the tree up in time for the hol­i­day. Hun­dreds of port work­ers and vol­un­teers were scram­bling Tues­day to build the enor­mous tree on a pop­u­lar beach­side prom­e­nade in Colombo, Sri Lanka's cap­i­tal. Once as­sem­bled, the steel and-wire frame should stand 98 me­ters (320 feet) high - more than 40 me­ters (131 feet) taller than the cur­rent record-holder. Or­ga­niz­ers said they wanted the tree to help pro­mote eth­nic and re­li­gious har­mony in the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity South Asian is­land na­tion.

"This is just to show the world that we can live as one coun­try, one na­tion," said the for­mer cricket player Ar­juna Ranatunga, now Sri Lanka's min­is­ter of ports and ship­ping. Sri Lanka has "is­sues re­gard­ing re­li­gion, caste and race," he said. In re­cent years, Sri Lanka's rep­u­ta­tion as an in­clu­sive mul­ti­cul­tural coun­try has suf­fered amid com­plaints by mi­nor­ity Chris­tian and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties of state-spon­sored dis­crim­i­na­tion, as well as al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread abuses against mi­nor­ity eth­nic Tamils both dur­ing and af­ter the coun­try's civil war against Tamil rebels, which ended in 2009.

Since as­sum­ing power in Jan­uary 2015, Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena and his gov­ern­ment have ush­ered in an era of trans­parency and post­war rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, but have yet to make good on many of their prom­ises, in­clud­ing dis­cov­er­ing the fate of thou­sands of peo­ple who dis­ap­peared dur­ing the war or in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­leged wartime abuses by the mil­i­tary. "The new gov­ern­ment has taken steps to con­trol most of the things," Ranatunga said, de­scrib­ing the Christmas tree as "one small ges­ture that we can show the world that we can live in har­mony."

World's tallest ar­ti­fi­cial tree

Some non-Chris­tian res­i­dents of Colombo where Christmas lights and Santa Claus im­agery over­take shop­ping malls dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son - were de­lighted by the enor­mity of the tree chal­lenge. "It's like a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to see such a thing be­ing erected with your own eyes," store clerk Charith Nis­sanka, 38, said as he walked by the con­struc­tion site, strewn with steel pipes and thou­sands of me­ters (yards) of net­ting, onto which the or­na­ments will be at­tached. Even­tu­ally, there will be more than 1 mil­lion nat­u­ral pine cones at­tached to the tree, topped by a 6me­ter-high (20-foot-high) shin­ing star.

Ul­ti­mately, Sri Lanka hopes the Christmas tree will be de­clared the world's tallest ar­ti­fi­cial one, and ef­forts are be­ing made to gather ev­i­dence to send to Guin­ness World Records, said the project's chief or­ga­nizer, Man­gala Gu­nasekara. Cur­rently, the record is held by a Chi­nese firm that put up a 55-me­ter-high (180-foot-high) tree-like tower of lights and syn­thetic fo­liage, or­na­ments and lamps in the city of Guangzhou last year. The world's tallest real Christmas tree ever is listed as a 67me­ter-high (221-foot-high) Dou­glas fir erected in 1950 at North­gate Shop­ping Cen­ter in Seat­tle. By com­par­i­son, this year's Christmas tree in New York City's Rock­e­feller Cen­ter is a Nor­way spruce that stands about 29 me­ters (94 feet) tall and is about 90 years old.

Not ev­ery­one in Sri Lanka thought the tree was a good idea, though. Four months af­ter con­struc­tion be­gan in Au­gust, Car­di­nal Mal­colm Ran­jith rep­re­sent­ing the is­land na­tion's 1.5 mil­lion Catholics - lam­basted the $80,000 project as a waste of money. Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe re­sponded to the crit­i­cism by say­ing the tree was not be­ing built with pub­lic money, but with do­na­tions from in­di­vid­u­als and pri­vate firms. But work­ers missed ini­tial dead­lines set for Dec 15, and then an­other yes­ter­day. Or­ga­niz­ers now say they're plan­ning to have the tree up by Christmas Eve on Satur­day night. The tree would then stay up un­til Jan 6. — AP

Peo­ple look at il­lu­mi­nated New Year dec­o­ra­tions to mark the up­com­ing New Year hol­i­day in the Kyr­gyz cap­i­tal of Bishkek. — AFP

In this photo, Sri Lankan port work­ers carry steel rods as they try to build an enor­mous, ar­ti­fi­cial Christmas tree on a pop­u­lar beach­side prom­e­nade in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this photo, Sri Lankan port work­ers as­sem­ble dec­o­ra­tions on frames as they try to build an enor­mous, ar­ti­fi­cial Christmas tree on a pop­u­lar beach­side prom­e­nade in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this photo, a Sri Lankan port worker climbs on a scaf­fold­ing as he fixes the frames to build an enor­mous, ar­ti­fi­cial Christmas tree on a pop­u­lar beach­side prom­e­nade in Colombo, Sri Lanka. — AP Photos

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