There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays

This post is my contribution to the November APLS Blog Carnival, which will be posted on November 15 at the Green Phone Booth.  The topic is “buying local.”  In the spirit of the holidays, I have chosen to write about one thing that we always buy local: our Christmas tree.


We’re all bundled up and the air is chilly as we walk through the woods.  We can both smell that snow’s in the forecast, and Jonathan and I hope that we’ll get a day off school tomorrow.  It’s mid-December, one of our favorite times of year.  We walk down the driveway, through the apple orchard, past the pond.  The pond isn’t safe enough to skate on yet, but we know that soon I’ll be twirling on my skates and the boys will be playing pond hockey.  We walk into the wooded area by the pond, looking for it: our tree.  After walking around the woods with a little saw, we find our tree.  It’s a little bit taller than me, probably around 5 feet.  Jonathan cuts it down and we take turns dragging it back by the pond, through the orchard, and up the driveway.  When we get home, Dad trims the bottom and helps us get it into the stand, setting it up in the toy room.  Nathaniel was too little to help us get the tree, but we’ll let him help decorate.  We string on the colored, flashing lights, and then throw silver tinsel all over it.  It’s perfect in our gaudy, childhood style.  Mom hates colored lights and tinsel, so she has her own tree in the other room.  Mom’s tree is also beautiful, with white lights and apple ornaments, but it doesn’t compare to our tree.

When we were growing up, just the thought of a fake tree made us giggle.  We couldn’t understand why someone would want a tree that was plastic or metal.  Our family sold Christmas trees at our farm market.  We’d spend weekends helping customers select the perfect tree and tie it to their cars to bring home.  Our winter coats and gloves inevitably became sticky with sap and we smelled like evergreen.  To learn more about the Real vs. Fake Christmas Tree Debate, go here.

Many people now are focused on buying locally produced goods, with benefit to both the economy and the environment.  A wonderful starting point to localize your holidays is to buy local Christmas trees. Choosing, cutting, bringing home and decorating your tree will create treasured family memories.  Ed and I have continued this tradition in our own home.  My tastes have changed and I must admit that my tree now looks a lot like Mom’s. 

In addition to memories, real, locally produced Christmas trees are good for the environment.  It typically takes 7 years to grow a Christmas tree.  During that time, these trees are a part of the ecosystem.  They provide oxygen, clean the air, provide food and habitat to animals.  When the holidays are over, there are recycling programs or you can place your tree in the woods, where it will provide food and shelter for insects and other small wildlife.  To learn more about the environmental benefits of real trees and how to recycle them, go here.

But what if you’re a true tree hugger?  You don’t want to kill a tree to celebrate the holidays?  Here are some options for you!

  • Get a potted tree.  You can decorate it in your home and then plant it to enjoy for years to come.
  • Decorate your trees outside.  You can hang apples, orange slices, homemade birdfeeders made of Indian corn spread with peanut butter and coated with birdseed.  Your tree will be beautiful and your wildlife friends will love it, too.
  • Decorate other potted plants.  My mom has hibiscus, palms and other plants that can’t survive a cold Connecticut winter.  Bring them inside and string some lights and ornaments on them, then return to the outdoors when weather permits.

Whatever you do, be aware that the holidays don’t have to be environmentally unfriendly.  I look forward to reading through the other posts in the APLS Blog Carnival this month to learn more about buying local!



Filed under Home, Local Agriculture, Outside, Sustainable Living

12 responses to “There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays

  1. Are there eco-friendly fake trees? I’m VERY allergic to the real thing.

  2. Well said. Living trees are more attractive and fragrant as well, not to mention less likely to catch fire. There are lot’s of benefits. Keep on thinking green!

  3. Thank you for sharing the link to the debate regarding real versus fake trees; I have to admit that growing up, our family usually put together the tree as part of our holiday rituals (it’s funny to think about it now), and I never thought of our tree as being bad for the environment. After reading your post and the tree debate, I am more convinced of the benefits of a real Christmas tree rather than a fake one.

    For the record, last year, we purchased a potted Christmas tree that we decorated outside. This year, I’m not sure whether I will buy another potted tree or if we will simply decorate our bushes.

    A question though, what do you recommend for folks who already own a fake tree? Is it better to dispose of a fake tree that will not decompose and buy a real tree that emits no dangerous chemicals? Or, should a fake tree owner continue to use a fake tree and support local tree farmers by also buying a real tree?

  4. When I was in college, I worked on a research project for one of the state chapters of the Christmas Tree Growers Association. We kept hundreds of trees in water for months and sampled the foliage over time for moisture loss. When properly watered, fresh cut trees present absolutely no fire hazard, as your links correctly attest. What was most interesting was that water retention varied across the species included in the studies. The firs held up the best, including balsam, Frasier, and grand (we did not include Canaan, as it wasn’t yet marketed as a holiday tree). The Douglas-fir and pines were middling, while the spruces retained the least moisture (but again, all species tested were safe). Oddly enough, my nose ranks them in the same order: firs best, spruces worst.

    I hadn’t had a Christmas tree in years before working on that project, but I’ve got a fresh-cut one every year since. The fragrance of a fir tree is incomparable — there is no substitute. No fake tree can even approximate that joy! [For those who don’t want to cut a whole tree, the same heady bouquet can be attained from a wreath of fresh fir boughs.]

    Thanks for the great reminder to buy local trees!

  5. Lisa- I’m far from an expert on fake trees. What about crafting one out of construction paper or newspaper or something? Or decorating another type of plant?

    Mark- I agree, I love the smell.

    BerryBird- Thanks for the great idea! I’m going to try this experiment with my botany students. We always study gymnosperms in December, because it just makes sense! Now we’ll have something fun to try out!

    Green Mamma- I would suggest NOT throwing out fake trees if you have them, but I would also suggest keeping them away from homes with small children and pets, since they can contain lead and other nasty chemicals… depending on where/when/how they were manufactured. How about freecycling it or donating it to someone who doesn’t have one?

  6. All my life we got “real” trees, though not locally, because we don’t grow them here. Then one day it dawned on me that every year at Christmas time I’m very sick for several weeks. It turns out I’m allergic to pines. So, we broke down and bought a fake one. I miss the wonderful smell, but I’ve now had three healthy Christmases, so I guess we did the right thing. It just isn’t the same, though.

  7. Ab,
    I just loved your Christmas story, especially your twirling on your skates on the pond and you and Jonathan decorating a “gaudy, flashing, tinsel-filled” tree! How beautiful it was! I can just picture it, all again! Also. . . how funny that your tree in your new home “looks like Mom’s tree!” Christmas is full of memories and thanks for bringing back some of those! I’m definitely bringing in a tree from the farm this Christmas, perhaps even a “Charlie Brown tree,” which will look beautiful when decorated with white lights and apple ornaments (which I have to try to keep the dogs from eating!) I think I may even try a potted tree this year! I already have white lights on the palm tree and I love your idea of decorating plants you already have inside or shrubs outside!

  8. knutty knitter

    Summer trees just don’t cut it here. They are mostly leggy apologies of trees that wilt before you even get them home. For quite a time we just decorated a pot plant and called it a christmas tree. I’m afraid we now have fake trees but they will be used for as long as possible (my mothers one is now 35 and counting).

    viv in nz

  9. Elizabeth

    Well, we keep a fake tree, but I’m allergic. I also worked at a convent that burned to the ground, killing two sisters due to a fire with a real tree, so they make me nervous. of course, the most important thing is to be careful with the lights. We got a good quaility fake one, hopefully it will last us forever.

    I freecycled an old table top fake tree this year. The lady was so glad to have it she even gave me chocolate! 🙂

  10. You are right, Abbie. I’ve never thought it through like that. Of course, I have a fake tree already so we’ll keep it.

  11. Several years ago my husband and I set out for a Christmas tree farm and as we drove it began to rain — harder and harder. We almost turned around and drove back home, but for some reason we didn’t. As we drove up the driveway to the farm, the rain turned to snow. In a very short time, every tree at the farm was perfectly flocked. We chose our tree and enjoyed hot cider under the seller’s tent. No artificial tree could possibly generate such memories. I never want to give up my real tree. 🙂

  12. Pingback: Green Mamma » Blog Archive » A Real Christmas Tree

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