4 December 2023

How does Canberra's Christmas tree compare to others around the world?

| James Coleman
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The tree measures 16 metres tall and copped some criticism that’s not in the spirit of Christmas. Photo: James Coleman.

Now that the first day of summer has passed and it’s officially permissible to add the first carols to the office playlist, the City Renewal Authority (CRA) has launched its Christmas-themed ‘Festive Finds in the City’ campaign.

There are many parts to this, from free rides on the merry-go-round to a wide range of low-cost or free activities, and even the chance to enter into a draw for a $500 Canberra Centre voucher by uploading your receipt from purchases made in the Civic and Braddon areas.

It’s all designed to encourage Canberrans and visitors to shop, eat, and get out and about in the city.

CRA acting deputy CEO Jen Ramsay is “inviting locals and visitors to embrace the festive season, make memories with their family and friends, and support local when buying their presents”.

“By activating the City Centre and Braddon, we’re helping local businesses attract customers and foster Christmas cheer.”

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At its centre is, of course, the Christmas tree. But not everyone’s a fan.

“This is the ugliest, most pathetic Christmas tree I have ever seen,” an anonymous post to the Canberra Notice Board Group on Facebook last week read.

“We deserve better, Canberra!”

It’s true it’s outshone by others around the world.

In the city of Gubbio in Italy, for instance, the slope of nearby Mount Ingino is lit up in the shape of a Christmas tree, with a star at its summit. The Rockefeller tree in New York is among the most Instagram-ed in the world. Rio de Janeiro in Brazil lays claim to the world’s largest floating Christmas tree, with one that soars 70 metres high and sparkles with nearly a million LED lights. Google Red Square in Moscow, Trafalgar Square in London, Strasbourg in France, or Zócalo, Mexico City for more inspiration.

Closer to home, the tree on City Walk is 16 metres tall and adorned with green garlands, giant baubles, and thousands of lights. The star atop the tree measures 1.7 metres in diameter and forms part of the tree structure.

Made of steel, it was purchased from Victorian design studio Creative Production Services in 2019 with funding from the ‘City Centre Marketing and Improvements Levy’, a levy paid to the ACT Government by all the businesses in the Civic, Braddon and Acton areas.

The tree takes up to a week to assemble and decorate with the assistance of a crane.

Ms Ramsay says the CRA has heard “the community likes the traditional look and feel of the tree, so we have stuck with a traditional tree with traditional colours and decorations this year”.

Dalek’s legs. Photo: James Coleman.

Canberra has erected some form of Christmas tree every year for decades. Well, nearly every year.

During the 1960s, the Quota Club of Canberra sponsored a ‘Giving Tree’ in Australia’s first fully-enclosed, air-conditioned shopping mall, Monaro Mall (now part of the Canberra Centre).

Later, in 1974, the National Capital Development Commission constructed a steel-lined hole on Alinga Street (Garema Plce), designed to hold a real Christmas tree.

However, the trouble with a real tree is that it starts to look a bit tired by the time Christmas actually arrives, so these trees required two coats of paint to keep the needles looking lively. This prompted calls from nearby shop owners for a permanent pine tree.

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From 1980 onwards, local businesses and community groups have picked up the cost of the Garema Place tree through sponsorship deals. The Canberra Times sponsored the 1980 tree and was joined by the Salvation Army and Canberra Scouts Association the following year.

There was no tree in 1982 and 1983 due to a lack of sponsors, but it returned in 1984 with support from radio station 2CA. It also moved from Garema Place to the median strip on Northbourne Avenue as a “more prominent location”, but due to concerns over how this might damage the pavement, it was swapped out for a smaller tree from near Albert Hall. This also dropped the cost of the tree down from $3000 to $952.

Over the years, it visited City Hill and Federation Mall outside Parliament House.

Christmas tree being installed on City Hill in 1986

In 1986, a large Christmas tree was installed on City Hill, adorned with 250 decorations and 70 metres of coloured lights. Photo: ACT Heritage Library.

In 2004, the National Capital Authority (NCA) gifted an artificial tree to the ACT Government, and the Canberra Christmas Tree went to Civic Square, outside the front of the Canberra Theatre Centre and ACT Legislative Assembly.

The tree has been next to the fountain on City Walk for several years now. Or is this year’s simply a “Dalek dressed up as a Christmas tree” (as another cruel commenter declared)?

You decide.

The Festive Finds in the City runs until Christmas Eve, 24 December. Visit the City Renewal Authority website for more information.

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Nick Stevens10:45 am 06 Dec 23

Looks brilliant, maybe some large potted grass plants around the base, nonetheless well done.

I presume you are being sarcastic when you say it looks brilliant?

Nick Stevens5:27 am 07 Dec 23

Superb and delightful. Has a Hans & Gretel appearance about it.

Capital Retro8:28 am 06 Dec 23

That would offend the cultural sensitivities of a lot of people who migrated to Canberra for a “better lifestyle”.

Shan Weereratne11:39 am 04 Dec 23

It looks like a giant plastic version bought up from a discount store, doesn’t make you feel very Christmassy. Not surprised considering it’s done by the ACT government sources.

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