The Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has officially banned the Christmas tree from the Catholic Church. Issuing a confidential letter to Priests through a the Archdiocesan Bulletin, the Archbishop has banned the placement of the Christmas tree inside the Catholic Church saying that it has “no significance to the Sacred Liturgy” in February 2015. Many Priests had not implemented it to protect the image of the Archbishop and the Church among the people. However this statement was made public on the official Church news paper released on the 20th of December 2015 not by the Archbishop himself but by the Priest in charge of Liturgy due to the controversial situation prevailing and to protect the image of a unpopular Parish Priest who seems to have had proposed the ban to the Archbishop.
The Archbishop who had been living in Rome, Italy for a long duration has obviously forgotten the significance the Christmas tree which plays a major role to bring the message of Christ from the known to the unknown. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindu’s in Sri Lanka join in the celebration of the Birth of Jesus together with the Christians and Catholics through this Christmas tree in religious unity.
The Catholic Church of Sri Lanka has kept the teaching of the Christmas tree hidden from its people and priests, and many rumors had come out instead of real stories thus many Catholic’s are not aware of the true story behind the Christmas tree.
As a tradition initiated by the people, the Christmas tree is kept inside the Catholic Church from the 1st of December to the end of January the next year. This is a tradition in Sri Lanka which was done even before the Second Vatican Council. If we as the Catholic Church say it has “no significance to the Sacred Liturgy” and throws the tree outside, what should then the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindu’s which the tree has no significance to their religion do? I believe this statement by the Catholic Church is an insult to the entire Christian community.
The tradition of the Christmas tree was started by a Catholic Saint called Saint Boniface in 723, he was the Archbishop of Germany whom the then Pagans of Germany worshipped a Tree God called the “Thunder Oak” and gave a human sacrifice every year in Winter (mostly a child). The Archbishop had stopped the ritual and single-handedly had cut down the “Thunder Oak” and had proved it’s Godly powers false to the Pagans. When the mighty tree fell, behind it stood a fir tree (A little Cyprus tree), an evergreen tree which kept green even in the winter. Saint Boniface told “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” and so almost all the pagans were baptized Catholic. So the tradition of the Christmas tree was born. If the Archbishop had understood this, he would understand that the Christmas tree is never to be kept outside as it is against the tradition of the Christmas tree.
The purpose of keeping the Christmas tree inside the Church (but outside the Sanctuary of course) is because the Catholic people as a Parish (one family) gather with it in the Lord’s House. It’s sad to see that religious leaders are the people who are corrupting the religion. Saint Pope John Paul II in his Vatican Christmas message in 2003 called on the world to understand the Christmas tree “The crib and the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!”. The Pope in 2004 also said that “it calls to mind the “tree of life” (cf. Gn 2: 9), a figure of Christ, God’s supreme gift to humanity.”. In the United States, which is one of the only countries which has regulations on Church decorations has avoided any relation with the Christmas tree. Christmas trees are kept inside the church premises and sometimes even inside the sanctuary with the crib (the nativity scene) being placed on the floor in front of the Holy Altar.
On another side a proper natural or artificial Christmas tree can never be kept outside as the wind would damage it. The ornaments would fall around the trees. Kept outside the electrical components become a hazard to children if the tree becomes wet. The dust outside would cause the tree to become dirty. The sun would burn the ornaments; as a result this attempt to put the tree outside has caused people to make alternative looking Christmas tree structures (metal contraptions) outside, which even insults the Christmas tree as seen in the image. Even major businesses agree that the Christmas tree is not suited outside.
In Negombo, north of Colombo the Christmas tree inside the Church allows poor children to place their Christmas requests on it. The rich and having people of the Parish would take these notes and place the gifts around the tree with the child’s name on it on Christmas day.
The decision by the Archbishop of Colombo to ban the Christmas tree is not justifiable under any grounds. If there is a problem with the Christmas tree then the problem should be addressed. The Archbishop of Colombo is behaving like the Sri Lanka Police who banned the full face helmet to curb crime. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka basing on culture keeps elephant tusks in the sanctuary on the sides of the living Blessed Sacrament, which has nothing to do with the Sacred Liturgy, at many Churches these tusks are fake and artificial, which breaks the laws of the Catholic Church. Yet since these tusks are gifts from the rich and powerful to the Church, the Archbishop turns a blind eye to them. Many accept that the cultural music style for Holy Mass is not suited to the Liturgy, yet the Archbishop does nothing because the people playing them are knowledgeable and hail from big families. When it becomes the Christmas tree of the poor and the innocent people the Archbishop goes straight ahead and bans it. Because he knows, that people that love it are “poor and innocent” and can do nothing to him.
I expect the Holy Father, and Christian communities and the President of Sri Lanka to intervene and resolve this issue to avoid insulting Christianity in a country where we must be careful with our image among the majority non-Christians.