How Green Is Your Christmas Tree?


My Grandfather Palmer had a rule we always follow at my house. The Christmas tree goes up after Thanksgiving and down before New Year’s Day. But even J. Frank might be stumped by today’s politically correct drive for ever greener Christmas trees.

When someone these days talks about a green tree, chances are, they refer to its carbon footprint and not the Grinch-like shade of the limbs. I’ve seen lots of Yule trees and sung “O’ Tanenbaum” in more than one language thanks to a brother-in-law of German descent from LaGrange. We’ve had real trees, artificial trees, trees that miraculously appeared at midnight and one silver tree with pink balls that went to war.

When I was about five, my father’s brother and his family spent Christmas with us. In the days leading up to Christmas I was perplexed by the absence of a tree in our living room. I finally pointed this deficiency to my mother and strongly suggested it was time to invest in some Christmas spirit and get the tree and presents out where we could see them.

Since my cousins, Pete and Liz, would spend Christmas with us and since they believed Santa brought the tree on Christmas Eve, Mom said we would do it their way that year. Bah, humbug did not adequately express my feelings. I have to admit, though, Christmas morning was pretty dramatic with the amazing appearance of tree and packages. The adults must have worked through most of the night.

During all my school-age years, I believe we had real trees at home. At one point during high school, however, my Grandmother Palmer acquired a small table-top artificial tree. It was the silver tinsel one with the pink balls. She used it for many years and when I was sent to Vietnam, she mailed it to me. We set it on top our refrigerator in the Chu Lai Public Information Office. Somehow the surreal absurdity of that little tree lifted our spirits.

For most of the past 40 years, we have used an artificial tree (preferably pre-lit). One year, however, we decided to rejoin the real tree ranks. We gathered the family and drove to the Christmas tree farm, selected a tree and had it cut down. We managed to get the tree home and proudly erected it in the center of the house. Our daughter, Amber, never stopped sneezing during the month of December. It seems she has a cedar allergy.

The next year, we resumed the use of artificial trees. Perhaps I picked up some prejudice against artificial trees from the fact the first artificial trees were made by Addis Brush in the 1930s. Artificial Christmas trees that actually looked something like a tree began life as a glorified toilet brush.

Despite the fake tree’s humble origins, tree huggers insist it is more ecologically sound to let the real tree live and reuse the artificial one in the attic.

Since Christmas trees are grown like any other cash crop, you do not harm the environment when you cut one down. Real trees can also become artificial reefs in lakes or chipped for mulch.

The main advantage of real versus artificial trees, which are preferred by about 80 percent of Americans who will have a Christmas tree this year, is what happens to the tree when you finally discard it. Fake trees are made from PVC plastic in China. They stay in your landfill – FOREVER.

For those of you keeping score at home, the real tree has a slight ecological advantage, but can not overtake the convenience of pulling an artificial tree out of a closet with everything on it and ready to plug in.

You can also take comfort in the knowledge that an artificial Christmas tree causes about the same amount of eco-damage as a quick trip to the beer store. Next time get two six-packs, save a trip and call it even. Further, if you have a teen daughter with cedar allergies, the artificial tree will save you more in doctor visits than the price of the tree and your December SWEPCO bill.


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