Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Trees Originated in Korea

Public humiliation - captured war trophy
As Christmas approaches once again, Koreans are being urged to remember the great contribution they have made to the Western method of celebrating the day Jesus was born in Namyangju near Seoul – the 'Christmas tree'. According to Korea's National Institute of Biological Resources (NIBR), the 'Christmas Tree' in your house is actually a Korean fir tree, although most Western Christmas enthusiasts may be unaware of this.

According to the institute, the Korean fir – which is known under its scientific name of Rabies Koreana - is an indigenous evergreen native to the slopes of Mt. Halla, Mt. Jiri and Mt. Dokdo. The "type specimen" of the Korean fir tree – a control sample which defines the taxonomy of the species within the scientific community – currently belongs to the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S. because a European botanist stole the specimen from Korea in 1904 and donated it to the institute.

But it was the Korean War which first introduced the Christmas tree to a wider U.S. Public - during the conflict American soldiers would huddle around Korean fir trees on Christmas Day to exchange gifts. When they returned home, some took these Korean cultural assets with them as a reminder of happier times. While many were quickly discarded after the Christmas season – even beaten and left to fend for themselves – other prospered in this alien land far away from home due to their strong growth ethic.

Through these turbulent events Christmas trees became part of the American tradition – so much so that research shows up to 300 million uneducated Americans now even believe that Christmas trees are American in origin, or at least European like themselves. The only reminder of the plant's Korean origin remains in the practice of placing an effigy of a light-skinned man or woman on the top of the Christmas tree, although the tradition of actually hanging a foreigner from the top of a Korean fir towards the end of the year has been officially discouraged by the Korean government in recent years.

The National Institute of Biological Resources says it is lucky that there is a type specimen for the Korean fir – even if it is in an untrustworthy overseas location – which can ultimately prove Christmas Trees are Korean. Other cases are more problematic, with many more species of indigenous Korean plants and creatures being used without permission, according to a spokesman for the institute.

The NIBR currently estimates that at least 20,000 type specimens have been stolen from Korea, and some 280 of these are being exploited illegally for commercial purposes. Apart from the Christmas tree, it is said that the Netherlands has type specimen rights to the Korean lily, Hungary has stonefly type specimens, and the U.S. has stolen the dark sleeper and northern loaches – both fresh-water fish indigenous to Korea, not their countries, and Antarctica now even claims the penguin – Korea's representative flightless bird – as its own.

Korea plans to insist on a recovery of rights at the international Convention on Biological Diversity next year, insisting that stolen Korea cultural fauna and flora must be returned. In the meantime, the National Institute of Biological Resources says is working hard to have the Korean origin of Christmas Trees officially recognized as it may enable Korea, as the place of origin, to claim a slice of the profits from their commercial use through the payment of royalties.

But some activists argue that Korea's Christmas trees should be returned to their home soil, which would enable the nation to finally put the colonial-era robbery of its cultural treasures behind it. "These trees may never have known Korea, but on the inside they are still Korean-wooded." explained 28 year-old Kim, the leader of the Christmas Tree Racers group, who tour the world to campaign against international trafficking in Korean firs. "Many of them will be torn away from their companions this Christmas, mocked and tortured by being made to stand in front of foreigners while balancing items on themselves for hours at a time, before finally being left to starve to death because of their inability to survive in inferior non-Korean soil."

The group has started an email campaign calling on the White House to return the so-called 'National Christmas Tree' to Korea. "America insensitively continues to display it as a war trophy in Washington while lying about its Korean origins and this is an insult to all Koreans and Korean trees everywhere." explained Kim.

Related Links
Korean Fir Popular as Christmas Tree
The Lost Right of the Christmas Tree
"Jesus Was Korean" Says Seoul Church
Abies Koreana
What the ... Christmas Tree????
Do you know Christmas tree? It is kind of traditional Korean plant. Do you have Christmas tree in your country?
President Lee Calls for Retrieval of Stolen Cultural Assets
Dokdo Racers Embark On Global Trip
Hallucinogenic Drugs
National Institute of Biological Research

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