Dreaming of a Green Christmas Tree

December 17, 2010
People across America are beginning to wonder how we can make Christmas a more “green” holiday. With hopes for a more ecologically sustainable future, many seek to dismiss the wastefulness and excess consumption that have long been the hallmark of the season. The first step would be to buy a real farm-grown Christmas tree, a sustainable alternative to a plastic, PVC-based tree. But tree-lovers are averse to the idea of chopping a tree down just to stick it in a dish of water, watch it turn into a pile of brown needles, and throw it in the waste bin a few weeks later. Many consumers would like to keep their Christmas tree alive instead of killing it every year. Fortunately new industries are emerging that are changing the nature of our relationship to the Christmas tree.

Companies who deliver live potted Christmas trees to homes and businesses are emerging as a response to this new demand, offering a promising green alternative to the cut tree industry. This service allows people to enjoy the tradition of the Christmas tree while encouraging the tree’s growth and sustainability. The Living Christmas Tree Company, founded in Redondo Beach, CA in 2008, is one such company that provides this service. Founded by a landscape architect, the company offers a variety of potted evergreen trees that their customers can choose from, including Sequoias, Cedars, and Monterey pines, all expertly grown at their nursery. The tree is delivered to the customer’s home and then returned to the nursery at the end of the holidays to live and thrive for the rest of the year. Customers can even reserve their tree for the next Christmas so they can have the same tree every year. Now that’s evergreen!

Such options are allowing people to celebrate Christmas in an eco-friendly spirit and to dismiss the wastefulness that has long defined the holiday in America. This new spirit hearkens back to the Pagan origins of the Christmas tree ritual. Originally, Pagans in what is now Germany ventured into the woods and decorated living trees with lights and gifts as worship to the forest deities. It was called Yule-tide and was a festival of reverence for nature. The long life of the evergreen trees was celebrated rather than cut short. With environmental consciousness growing in our culture, perhaps this approach to the Yule-tide celebration is reemerging.

There are other ways to enjoy a Christmas tree in your home and keep it alive, if you can’t find access to a Christmas tree rental company. You can purchase potted evergreen trees at a garden store or nursery. Try to speak with a tree expert there about the best way to care for the tree inside and how to transplant it outside. Alternatively some companies will plant the tree for you in your community. One of the longest-running live Christmas tree companies has been operating since 1992 in Portland, Oregon. Living Christmas Trees will deliver a potted Christmas tree to their customer’s door and once the holidays are over will replant it in the Portland area. What a way to integrate the joy of Christmas trees into the surrounding community.

Buying a real, farm-grown tree and avoiding fake plastic Christmas trees is merely the first step to a celebrating a green Christmas. If we are to promote a tree-filled world and an ecologically sustainable future, then promoting Christmas tree growth is the perfect tool to achieving this. Every acre of Christmas tree farm creates the daily oxygen required by 18 people. If we replanted all these trees in the empty land surrounding our cities, we would have a greener world in general, and not just for the sake of Christmas.

Traditionally, people think of Christmas as a time of over-eating, overconsumption, and waste. But as we move into an age of greater environmental awareness, we may find that Christmas offers an opportunity to celebrate green values instead. After all it may be a truism but some of the best parts of the holidays are free – family, friends, love and togetherness. And as for the tree itself, Christmas is already on the right track. With just a few tweaks (and a nod to our pagan friends), it could become the model celebration of ecological and social sustainability.
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