A tree-mendous effort

Updated: 21 December, 2019 10:45 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Worli resident tending India's tallest fully decorated Christmas tree that will come alive starting next week, all for a good cause, teams up with mid-day

Douglas Saldanha and his 67-feet-tall Christmas tree; (below) tree decoration in progress. Pics/Ashish Raje
Douglas Saldanha and his 67-feet-tall Christmas tree; (below) tree decoration in progress. Pics/Ashish Raje

Abour 45 years ago, Douglas Saldanha's neighbour was unable to accommodate an eight-feet pine conifer in their verandah. As Saldanha had the luxury of a garden adjoining his home in Worli's Adarsh Nagar, his family purchased it for R250 to have it planted there. Along with his sister Twila, they were tasked with nurturing it and it grew to become more than just a tree. Every Christmas, the siblings would decorate either side of it. As the years went by, biology restricted ambition; their little hands could only reach so far up, leaving the top half of the plant undecorated. It still served its purpose but for Saldanha everything changed in 2003 — the year Twila was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"My father had also been battling cancer at the same time. I quit my job as an architect to take care of him for eight months, and he went on to survive for 12 years thereon. But my sister passed away in 2005. She died in my arms, struggling to hold on to her life despite being sedated with morphine," Saldanha recounts. One of Twila's wishes concerned the tree: she wanted it to be decorated so well that it could be seen from heaven. And that's exactly what her brother has been doing since.

A tree-mendous effort

The 58-year-old landscape architect not only keeps his garden open to the public, but also invites underprivileged children and gives gifts, and organises two parties for the children and senior citizens of his colony (each costs him R50,000). This endeavour has blessed him with many friends, he says; last year, he welcomed 8,000 visitors from all over the country, between December 1 and January 6. And this year, while you visit the glorious display, you can also click a picture at the mid-day photo booth near the tree.

The Christmas tree is now 67-feet tall and boasts of 50,000 lights. "I also have over 190 LED lights. I connect them to Alexa, so that the kids can have fun saying, 'Alexa, change the colour of the lights to red'. It is also programmed to blink according to the beats of the music," he informs, adding that he expects 40 to 50 underprivileged children, part of a class at the nearby Sacred Heart Church to join in. He has also contacted a local politician to present them with school bags and stationery, but is also making gift arrangements on his own. What's next for Saldanha? He hopes to launch an NGO called Santa Cause next year, where in SUVs converted into sleighs, he hopes to visit children's hospitals, shelters and old age homes distributing gifts.

A tree-mendous effort

Saldanha is not only seeking sponsors and partners for his NGO and initiative, particularly food and beverage companies, but would also like the public to contribute with gifts and sweets for the children. Although this comes at a great personal cost, the smiles from the kids, he says, are priceless which is why this year, mid-day decided to partner with Saldanha to spread the word. "The children performed break dance and acrobatics last year. This is not just for Catholics; I want everyone to see the tree with their friends and family. We need more positive vibes right now. We need to lift people up so that one day they can do the same."

Till January 6, 7 pm onwards
At 60/1463, MIG Adarsh Nagar, near DY Patil Institute, Worli.
Call 9967600440
Email dougz24@gmail.com

What to expect

  • December 24-25, 2019: On Event Night, children will ask Alexa connected to the lights display to change colour. The lights will also change colour to the melodies of Christmas carols. This might be repeated on December 31.
  • December 28, 2019: Children's Talent Show followed by a Children's Christmas Carnival. 5 pm to 7 pm.
  • January 2, 2020: New Year Party for the colony's senior citizens.

Call to action

Join mid-day to extend your support to Saldanha in fulfilling a few lucky wishes. Come by to see the decorated tree between December 24, 2019, and January 6, 2020, and make donations that will go to underprivileged kids in the area. This can include stationery, toys, chocolates, cookies and cakes.

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First Published: 21 December, 2019 10:35 IST

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