Most people take scientific and passionate positions in the artificial or real Christmas tree debate. Often they accuse the opposite side of either ruining the environment or sullying the spirit of Christmas. The best way to win the debate is to choose the Christmas tree that suits you and your family best, and then build family traditions around your Christmas tree customs to pass on to your children and grandchildren.
A Short Live Christmas Tree Genealogy
Egyptians and many other ancient cultures treasured and worshipped evergreens. When the winter solstice arrived, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to celebrate the triumph of life over death. The Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a feast to honor Saturnus, the god of agriculture, by decorating their houses with greens and lights and exchanging gifts.
In Great Britain, priests called Druids used evergreens during their mysterious winter solstice rituals. They put evergreen branches over doors to ward off evil spirits and used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.
Centuries ago, Germans and Scandinavians brought evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to express their hope that spring was coming. From the 16th century on, fir trees were brought indoors at Christmas time.
Most twenty first century people don’t go into the woods to cut their own Christmas trees. Instead, they buy their approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold in the United States every year from the more than 350,000 real Christmas tree growers in the United States. Nearly 15,000 farmers in the United States grow Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry employs over 100,000 people full or part time. North American and Real Christmas Trees are grown in all of the 50 states and Canada
A Short Artificial Christmas Tree Genealogy
Artificial Christmas trees originated in Germany toward the end of the nineteenth century. Germans covered metal wire trees with goose, turkey, ostrich or swan feathers and often dyed the feathers green to imitate pine needles. German immigrants brought their artificial trees with them to America, installed them in their new homes at Christmas, and transferred the custom to the larger culture.
In the 1930s, the Addis Brush Company of Great Britain which manufactured toilet brushes, diversified and used their toilet brush machinery to create the first artificial brush trees. Addis designed the “Silver Pine” tree with a revolving light source under it and featured colored gels that allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree. The company patented the ”Silver Pine” tree in 1950.
Over the next sixty years, artificial tree technology and production improved so much that they are not easy to distinguish from living trees. Today most of the artificial trees in the United States are imported from China. According to the International Trade Association, China produced 85 percent of the over 150,000 artificial Christmas trees that were imported into the United States in the last two years. In 2007, Americans bought 17.4 million artificial Christmas trees.
There are pros and cons to buying a real Christmas tree.
Real Christmas Tree Pros
Real Christmas trees smell like real trees and they are renewal resources. Most Christmas tree farmers plan to regrow their entire stock within a 10 year time frame.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, about 93 percent of the real Christmas trees that people buy every year are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.
Some scientists calculate that one farmed tree absorbs more than one ton of carbon dioxide during its life and each acre of trees produces enough oxygen to supply the daily needs of 18 people.
The entire family can go Christmas tree shopping and it can become a family Christmas tradition.
Real Christmas Tree Cons
Real Christmas trees require regular maintenance like watering and cleaning up their needles, and sometimes they can trigger allergies.
Real trees can be a fire hazard.
Real trees are farmed, which means they may be treated with repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. may be used throughout their lifetime.
In climates where coniferous trees don’t grow, the real Christmas trees may travel hundreds of miles to reach the tree lot with the economic and environmental costs of travel coming with them.
Manufacturers have made it easier to assemble artificial trees and made them more closely resemble real trees.
Artificial trees are convenient and they don’t shed needles.
Pets are less likely to use artificial trees for litter boxes, scratching posts, or fire hydrants.
Artificial trees can be taken down and stored from year to year without having to replace them.
The entire family can help put up the artificial Christmas tree and assembling and decorating the tree can become a family Christmas tradition.
Artificial Christmas Tree Cons
Today’s artificial Christmas trees are manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride, a petroleum based palstic.
If an artificial tree catches fire, it releases toxic fumes.
Artificial trees can’t be recycled and they last for decades if they go to a landfill..
Older artificial trees many contain lead which is used as a stabilizer during manufacturing.
Living Christmas Trees
If you want to opt out of the artificial Christmas tree debate or bypass it altogether, consider buying a living, potted three this Christmas.
You can buy potted dwarf conifers like spruces, junipers or pines at most nurseries and keep them indoors in their pots during the holidays. They can go outside for the rest of the year, climate permitting.
Slow Grow Conifers like mountain hemlock, bristlecone pine, and alerce can be kept in pots until spring. These trees can be planted in your yard and you can make choosing them, caring for them indoors and planting them outdoors and decorating them a holiday tradition.
Whatever type of Christmas tree you choose, you can make it a scientific (without advertising the fact) family project and a family tradition.
Davis, Ann Kirk and Albers, Henry H. The Wonderful World of Christmas Trees. Mid-Prairie Books, 1997
Hill, Lewis. Christmas Trees: Growing and Selling Trees, Wreaths, and Greens. Storey Communications, 1989
Wray, Robert. Christmas Trees for Pleasure and Profit. Rutgers University Press, 4 edition, 2009.
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