The Christmas Trees of Korea

A whole new twist on the “war on Christmas” comes from Korea — North and South — in recent weeks. The following information makes the so-called western “war on Christmas” almost seem silly in comparison. At the center of it all is the Christmas tree — or, as they call, it — a weapon of real war.

South Korean Christians made international headlines last month with the lighting of a 100-foot tower shaped like a Christmas tree. The act so angered North Korean officials that they declared it “an undisguised challenge to us and an unacceptable provocation”. It warned that staging “psychological warfare” along the border would be a “rash act” that could ignite war on the peninsula. North Korea is a totalitarian state that long ago banished religion and sent practicing Christians to prison camps.The idea that Christmas could exist there in any form is absurd.

Lost in the coverage of a bizarre visit to North Korea by Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is the blogged account of the trip from Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie.

It was her comments and pictures of North Korean Christmas trees that caught our eye.

Imagine it: Christmas trees in North Korea.

Forget what a Christmas tree means to us. What must it mean to North Koreans?

The Christmas tree is a secular symbol of the season. Tied anciently to pagan practices it is commonly explained by historians to be one of the adopted traditions Christians exploited in expanding the celebration of Christmas.

In republican environments the idea of Christmas trees is argued every season as an appropriate part of public holiday celebration. We grapple over whether to call it a Christmas tree or a holiday tree.

Sophie Schmidt mentioned that her “handler”, when questioned about the Christmas trees she saw, jokingly referred to them as “New Year’s trees”. Of the many wry observations of her visit to that bizarre state this was the most ironic observation for us.

It tells us that even in the bleak landscape of North Korea hope survives and the Christmas tree, whether it is a religious symbol to them or not, remains an ever present symbol nonetheless.

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