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N.Y. museum's origami tree speaks of harmony, courage

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Faces were illuminated as the Museum of Natural History celebrated its 29th origami tree lighting ceremony Monday. This year's tree is dedicated to the victims of September 11.

As 50 fourth-graders from P.S. 75 and seven pre-schoolers from the West End Intergenerational Residence assisted the museum in its annual tradition, the museum's president had one point of contention as she lifted a hearty 8-year-old to the button that ignited the arbor: "Next year a lighter assistant (should) be chosen."

Five thousand paper, pastel-colored arthropods, mammals, and stegosauruses adorned the 14-foot artificial tree. And on top, a gigantic rainbow-feathered crane crowned the holiday flora.

"It represents all the animals that they have been studying, but the crane makes especially important for the children," said Jane Kloecker, director of museum's science and nature programs for young children. The crane is the Japanese symbol of harmony, long life, and courage.

"The tree represents the joy of the season and also the fact that we are in a time of great sorrow," said Tom Harriman, a family life specialist at the West End Intergenerational Residence. The residence is home to about 50 single mothers and their children. Harriman escorted a little more than a handful of 4-year-olds, which he said is a "spectacular turnout."

Jane Sakamoto, the tree's designer, was forced to shelve her initial floral theme. After September 11, museum administrators felt the tree should have a special significance. She and her team of volunteers worked around the clock for the past two months on their new origami assignment.

Sakamoto was lucky: more than 9,000 people from South America to East Asia submitted ornaments and she made her November deadline.

In a city that is still mourning the victims of the September 11 attacks, some parents are finding it difficult to celebrate the Christmas holiday with their children, while still dealing with their losses. "My son needs to know about life," said La Shawn Barnes, a mother who brought her son to the event. "It's a puzzle and he needs to know how to put it together."


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