December 12, 2015

Fake or Real? The Environmental Dilemma of Christmas Trees.


What’s the most Eco, Fun Christmas Tree? ~ a Video & Podcast with Waylon Lewis.

I’ve always been a real tree kind of gal.

I swore I would never buy fake. The whole ritual of cutting down a holiday tree with our children was something I adored; from our excitement, to the smell of fresh fir, to the hot chocolate or cider served at the tree farm, to finding that perfect tree.

It was one of the best parts of Christmas.

Christian turned Pagan, I have combined the many overlapping decorating traditions found in both faiths and now realize just how much Pagan mythology was absorbed into Christian practices. Bringing fresh evergreen branches indoors is one of them.

Although my children no longer live at home, I am no less enthused about what I now call the Yule Tree.

So what kind of tree do I decorate now, artificial or real?

Before I tell you, here are some Christmas tree facts, pros and cons:


1. An estimated 30 million trees get cut down for holiday use each year. Wow! That’s 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide to neutralize.

2. Most of those trees go into land fill yards, and are not chipped for landscaping use, as so often we are told.

3. Holiday trees are treated with pesticides. There are options however in some areas for organic trees.

4. Advocates for live trees say that trees sold in one’s area are from that area and good for the local community. While this is true in some cases, many trees in my province of Ontario are shipped from the eastern provinces and some from across country in British Columbia. I live rurally so have access to local tree farms, and organic choices. But when I lived in the city without a car my choices were limited to Nova Scotia trees. Make sure to ask when buying your tree where it’s from.

5. Pine trees grow very quickly and are a type of weed tree, say real enthusiasts. Well…not that quickly! In relation to let’s say a maple tree, yes, but it’s not like they spring up to 7 or 8 feet in a couple of years or are of no environmental value.

6. Artificial trees will take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Yuk! Some areas do have recycling for fake trees but there is still a huge environmental footprint to recycling of anything.

7. Artificial trees are made with oil inputs, and many are manufactured overseas which increases their carbon emissions footprint further. There is still an oil input footprint for real trees, for the fertilizing, cutting and shipping part.

8. You can use your artificial tree for years and years and avoid being part of the holiday de-forestation program.

9. While holiday movies depict lovely tree growing farms owned by Farmer Jack and friends, the reality is that holiday trees for commercial sale are clear cut and the picture is not pretty. Try to purchase from an outfit that is serious about re-forestation and sustainable tree farming practices.

10. You’ll save money buying an artificial tree. Perhaps.

11. There is guilt, no matter which way you go. Sigh.


So, what do I use now? Back to my Pagan ways…

I am a Yule tree freak, I’ll admit. I love my tree decorations, I love to have the tree up for weeks on end, and I love the smell of fresh pine.

It distresses me to cut a tree that has been growing for years to use for only a two or three week period. Also, as an Intuitive, cutting a tree comes complete with a sensory perception of the tree’s death.

My idea of celebrating Winter Solstice/Christmas is one that extends for six weeks. Festivities are more of a season than a one day splash out. I guess you know where I’m headed.

I have been using the same artificial tree for the last ten years. I paid an exorbitant amount of money for it, because I could only justify the environmental atrocity I was committing if I could use it for many, many years. It still looks like new and is really a beautiful tree—and as close to real as fake can look.

I put it up the last week of November and it stays up until mid-January. It’s my deep winter solace. I love the colors, the lights, the memories; the connection to what Solstice means to me.

But, there is more! I still cut fir branches for outdoor decorations and the table, and purchase real wreaths made locally for the door. Somehow, I feel better about taking a few branches than cutting the whole tree. All cutting is done with permission from the tree.

I don’t think that given the population of the world today and the tree decorating tradition that there is one good way of doing this. I’m not sure that my way is the best way either.

An alternative practice is to use a potted tree that can be later planted in the garden or some readily accessible forest. Or just use cuttings and not have a tree either way.

Or you can decorate a tree in your yard with treats for the birds and squirrels. I do this every year and it is such a lovely way to feed the critters when their food supplies are low.

There are many creative ways of building a holiday tree on crafting sites now. elephant headquarters has one made of books!

Or you can just hang lights and decorations on that outdoor tree.

Whichever type of tree you choose, and no matter which holiday you celebrate this December, I wish you and yours a safe, mindful and peaceful holiday.





Author: Monika Carless

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: muffinn at Flickr 

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