Sri Lanka's record Christmas tree pruned due to work delays

The steel skeleton currently under construction for a Christmas tree against the backdrop of a Chinese funded hotel project at the Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Dec 16, 2016.
The steel skeleton currently under construction for a Christmas tree against the backdrop of a Chinese funded hotel project at the Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Dec 16, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka surpassed the world record for the tallest artificial Christmas tree on Saturday (Dec 24) despite building delays forcing organisers to prune the structure by almost half, an official said.

Cricket legend Arjuna Ranatunga initiated plans to build the record-breaking tree in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, but ran into opposition from the Catholic church which said the money would be better spent on charity.

"Initial opposition... meant a delay of about 10 days in our construction work," event coordinator Mangala Gunasekera told AFP.

"Our target was 100 metres, but construction delays forced us to cut down the height," he said.

As of Saturday morning, the tree was about 57 metres tall, he said, two metres taller than an artificial Christmas tree erected in the southern Chinese province of Guangzhou last year.

The Sri Lankan claim is subject to confirmation by the Guinness World Records.

Gunasekera said 600,000 coloured LED bulbs would be used to decorate the tree, along with a six-metre Santa and a 12-metre sleigh.

"On Christmas eve, we will switch on the lights," he added.

Ranatunga, who led Sri Lanka to victory in the 1996 World Cup, has been at the forefront of the project to raise funds for the artificial tree as a symbol of religious unity.

The project was rescued after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke to the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith to secure his blessings.

The archbishop had initially described the project as "wasteful expenditure" and said that the estimated US$200,000 (S$289,480) cost would have been better spent on alleviating poverty.

Last year Sri Lanka's Catholic church urged priests not to put up Christmas trees in their churches over the festive period, with Cardinal Ranjith saying they had no religious significance.

Sri Lanka is a mainly Buddhist country but around 1.2 million of its population of 21 million are Catholics.