Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Russia, with Joy? Christmas Tree Gift from Kremlin Puzzles Parisians

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Russia, with Joy? Christmas Tree Gift from Kremlin Puzzles Parisians

Article excerpt

Tens of thousands are expected tonight in New York City to gather for the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree - a tradition that dates back to 1933 and that clearly the organizers want beamed across the world, with the likes of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett slated to take the stage.

Across the Atlantic, the organizers of another famous Christmas tree celebration are glad their lighting ceremony didn't receive quite the same level of global attention: this year the giant tree outside Paris's famed Notre Dame Cathedral came courtesy of the Russian government.

The unveiling event late last month was so low-key that at least one French national deputy wasn't even aware of its Russian origin. Tourists snapping photos today of the 25-meter-high tree, trimmed with giant blue and white lighted bulbs, had no idea - or care - who its patron was.

But the gift comes at an odd time, when France has angered Moscow over the indefinite delay of two Mistral warships' delivery, a decision it says it made over Russia's fueling of conflict that continues to rage in Ukraine, and when Europe at large is on guard with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his intentions on the continent.

The gift came about after the rector of Notre Dame, Monseigneur Patrick Jacquin, said he told various foreign embassies last month that the cathedral had no money this year to pay for its annual Christmas tree. The price tag, reported by the local media, topped 80,000 euros ($98,000). Russia was apparently the first to offer aid.

At the unveiling late last month, Russia's ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, called it "a message of peace."

"We want to show by this gesture, that despite the efforts to isolate Russia, the friendship between our two countries is so strong and deep that no politics can destroy [it]." The Russian media in Paris, apparently tipped off to the event, covered it widely.

A Paris-based Russian diplomat, Igor Tkatch, was quoted in the local media as describing the tree as "a marvelous symbol of the unity, fraternity, and mutual understanding between Christian peoples. …

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