05 December 2012


During my childhood, it was a big deal when December arrived, for (among other things) that meant putting up and decorating a Christmas tree in our living room.  The decorations were fun, and included a miniature Dickensian village made up of cast-metal figurines of people walking, skating (on the oval mirror which served as a frozen pond), riding in sleighs, and Victorian houses.  Lots of colored lights, lots of tinsel.  

During my adulthood, I started my own treasured collection of lights and ornaments.  But I also began to question the practice of killing millions of trees for the holiday, only to discard them several weeks later.  I question the practice even more today, as forests shrink and greenhouse gases proliferate.  We should be planting diverse species of native tree and shrubs, and allowing them to mature into wilderness.  Wildlife would thank us, and those trees would absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, a small step toward slowing climate change.

Many trees which are sold commercially are grown in massive numbers on tree farms, expressly for the purpose of cutting at a certain age/height.  Many other trees are cut by individuals who venture into national forests or onto private land to choose just the right tree for their home.  Regardless, every cut tree is discarded.  Most disappear into landfills.  A few are placed along hedgerows or in ditches in rural areas to create habitat for small wildlife.  

After my son was born, we began to experiment with alternatives, most notably living trees which remained in their root containers during the holidays, then were planted outdoors.  In my mind it remains the most eco-friendly approach.  We also tried substituting other living plants (e.g., bamboo), as well as weaving evergreen garlands around and through the cat tree.  Adequate, but not nearly as festive as a fully-decorated tree.  (I never could see the point of a metal, plastic, or foil artificial tree.)

These days whenever I pass a commercial lot where cut trees are sold, or see a vehicle with a freshly-cut tree tied to the top, I can only think of tree corpses.  It saddens me.  (I have the same reaction when I see a logging truck hauling 40-foot lengths of tree trunks.  Yes, we need the lumber for construction, but most of those trees will be sold overseas.  But that's another story.)  Why don't more people buy, decorate, and then plant living trees?  Is tradition so ingrained that we just don't think about how the world has changed, and consider that maybe our assumptions should change too?  I don't now.

Don't get me wrong ~ the childhood memories of the magic created when all the lights are turned out except for the Christmas tree lights, the fresh pungent smell of pine or fir or cedar, and the association of all these things with the unbearable anticipation of Santa's arrival ~ all these things are precious to me.  I just think we could create other, equally precious memories for ourselves and our children without murdering entire forests.

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