About ten years ago, when I was a very poor single mom, I had no money to buy a Christmas tree one year. At the time it felt like a bummer. My solution was to tape two pieces of roll out white paper together and paint a tree on it. I added painted lights, ornaments and a star, and hung it on the wall.
Now when I look back at photos, the ones of that year, and our homemade tree, are some of my favorites.
But after that year, when my financial situation was a little bit better, I started regularly buying Christmas trees. They were fun, looked beautiful, and smelled great. I’ve bought a nice tall tree every year since.
Until this one.
In a quandary
For the past couple of months I’ve been wrestling with what to do this Christmas. Money is tight once more, but if we wanted to buy a Christmas tree, we would.
Yet I couldn’t get out of my head that cutting down a tree felt wrong if it was just to have it on display from December 15 through Twelfth Night and Epiphany in early January. In part it felt wrong because the population is so huge now, that with millions of us cutting down trees for this short period, the scale is just unsustainable for our environment.
Oh I know that most municipalities, mine included, recycle the trees, turning them into local mulch and other environmental applications. And that’s great. We’ve made some real eco-friendly gains in that regard in the last decade or so.
But that still didn’t make it feel much better for me. After all, overfarming of all sorts has strained the top soil in our country to critical levels, leading to widespread desertification. And many of those trees are shipped around on trucks, adding to the fossil fuel footprints.
Sure, buying a tree from local growers would make me feel good about supporting my area farmers. But even that yearly good deed didn’t sway me. And I already buy the large part of my produce, meat and dairy from my local farmers, so that base is covered.
I realized that for me, the yearly Christmas tree gig was up. I had to find a different way.
Change is hard
Believe me, this was in no way easy for me.
I love the trappings of Christmas as much as other celebrants— sacred, secular and pagan all thrown in there (though the sacred is my favorite).
I love Christmas trees! Deciding to give up Christmas trees wasn’t made any easier emotionally just because I knew it was “the right thing to do.” Lots of things are the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it a breeze to do them.
So, I just want to say that in advocating a conservation lifestyle as an ethical and moral and even sacred and spiritual path, I recognize that the choices are painful sometimes, especially when they hit right at the heart of the customs we’ve enjoyed for a lifetime.
Our new tree, a member of the family
Sadly, getting an artificial tree isn’t an option because they’re largely made of petroleum products. I can’t get behind that at all.
In the end I decided to get a Ficus Benjamin tree. I think of it like a new pet, something with which I plan to have a long term relationship.
I searched all around for the biggest one I could get locally, which turned out to be about five feet tall.
Getting the Ficus on December 15 wasn’t exactly the wisest move in the world since Ficuses are known for dropping their leaves after a move. I’ve been talking to mine, though, urging it to stay leafy as a kind of Christmas miracle. (But if you want to do it for next year, get one early in the year to acclimate it to your place.)
I bought it a lovely oyster shell colored ceramic pot and saucer, so it’s all decked out in finery. We’ll put lights on it, and hang a few of our ornaments. Probably all of our ornaments won’t fit just yet, so we’ll make a game of picking the favorites to go on this year. But since the Ficus can grow to ceiling height, and spread its branches, our hopes are that it will be happy and prosper in our home, accommodating more ornaments each year for years to come.
Obviously only buying one tree and using it for years and years is a money saver. It will also save 30 or so evergreen trees that I would have purchased over the coming decades. Instead they can stay where they are and do what they do best — sequester carbon and perform photosynthesis. That it will lower the hassle factor of making time to go out and buy and haul home a tree is an added bonus. As will be the hours no longer spent picking up tiny pine needles in the car and the house.
In the end, I can feel so much better about Christmas because I’m not killing a tree. That knowledge is making the emotional process of letting go of Christmas tree purchases a little bit better. And, because I’ll now have a tree in my home year round, purifying the air, adding crucial negative ions to our indoor environment, this seems one of the best Christmas presents of all.
I’m hoping my teen-aged daughters will feel the same way.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List