With the festive season beginning yesterday, questions are being raised about the commercialisation of Christmas and the waste of money while millions of people suffer in different degrees of degradation, deprivation and destitution.
The National Christian Council’s (NCC) General Secretary Rev. Ebenezer Joseph, in a message published on page 16 of the Daily Mirror today signals a red alert for a plan to construct the tallest Christmas tree and compares it to the disaster of the tower of Babel.
The 300-foot tree being constructed at the Galle Face Green by the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, is to be declared open by Minister Arjuna Ranatunga on December 24.
Rev. Joseph in his hard-hitting message asks whether the construction of this tallest tree is a tall story to cover up the common people’s genuine concerns related to the adjacent multi-billion-dollar Port City Project and divert attention to the tree. Thereby though we have eyes we will not see what happens beyond the tree or is it conveying to the world that trees will have to be constructed hereafter.
According to the Minister, the time has come to start on a path of religious harmony. And the construction of the tallest Christmas tree is part of that move. Speaking at a ceremony organized by the Arjuna Ranatunga Social Welfare Society, he said the present government’s good governance principles were intended to foster peace and harmony in Sri Lanka. “When handing over this country to the next generation we should make sure that there are no clashes among people of any races or religions. We have created an environment where religious leaders could sit and talk about their religions,” he said. The Ports Authority’s Buddhist Forum is the main sponsor of this project. So far Mexico holds the World record for creating the World’s tallest Christmas tree which is 295 feet tall. The Minister says the aim of the foundation is to break this record by constructing the world’s tallest Christmas tree.
While appreciating the intentions or claims of the Minister he needs to be reminded that commercialisation and breaking world records may be popular but it is not a just and lasting way of promoting religious harmony.
As the NCC’s leader says, Sri Lanka has already been plagued by the most commercialised Christmas in South Asia. The decoration, the festivities, the carnivals, the parties, Santa Claus and the Christmas trees, are some elements promoted more by commercial establishments. The state patronage given to the commercialised elements far outweigh the religious value. Apart from the waste of money, it makes Christmas unpalatable to the ordinary Sri Lankans, who are rooted and nourished by spirituality, humility, non-extravagance, and sacrificial love to meet the needs of the oppressed and impoverished people, whatever their religion or race. Commercialisation also results in the true essence of Christmas being distorted and it is turned into a non-religious social event. He says the tallest tree is being constructed at a site that will be an attraction to the tourist hotels surrounding that area. The tree also stands tall just next to the seat of political power where important decisions are made. But the Gospel story clearly indicates that Jesus was not born in King Herod’s palace but in a lowly cattle shed where the Ox and the lamb made space for Him. The tree also stands tall amid a political and socio-economic system which makes the poor poorer and more vulnerable.
In line with the liberative spirituality that all major religions propagate, instead of manufacturing the tallest tree or taller stories we need to commit ourselves to an era when swords will be turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, an era when nations will reject war or violence, that is also an era where the bear will be gentle and the wolf tame, where the lion will lay down with the lamb and where the beasts of the wilds shall be led by a child.