Ahhh, my first real Christmas tree. I remember it well. It was 1994. My boyfriend – now husband – and I had moved into our first home together, a small rental bungalow with a small corner large enough for a small tree. A random spruce, bought from the nearest DIY warehouse with our inaugural set of glass baubles and tinsel, all sparkling with bright gold and red hues.
We were in our mid-twenties, keen to enjoy our own romantic mini-Christmas before travelling a couple of hundred miles to the other side of the country to join the festivities with our respective families.
This tradition continued as we moved around the country, bought our first house, got married and started our own family. Then we moved to the Suffolk suburbs, with the added excitement that all of a sudden we were virtually on the doorstep of an actual Christmas tree farm.
Choosing our tree from the local barn with our growing family very soon blossomed into an annual Christmas highlight. The taller the children grew, the taller the tree they chose until it was just shy of our 8ft ceiling. The carefully considered decorations of gold and red were quickly outnumbered by home-made decorations and primary school contributions plus baubles glistening with all the colours of the rainbow. Some years baked orange slices appeared, others saw paper snowflakes but whatever the year, selecting and decorating the tree has become an exciting and heart-warming occasion to enjoy and a time to reflect on family memories. A beloved tradition that even at 17 and 20, our children still enjoy.
However, this December, in the year that is 2021, not that many weeks after COP26, I realise that this tale of festive sentimentality could be equally regarded as the confessions of a tree killer.
While campaigners quite rightly promote the benefits of and the need for planting trees, I am currently doing the maths and calculating that my Christmas habits have been indirectly responsible for chopping down 28 fir trees, ranging from 4ft high to 7ft tall. That’s twenty-eight fir trees and counting.
Dare I confess further that this November, we even took the opportunity to visit the actual Christmas tree plantation at the local farm and identify the tree that we wanted. We labelled it and there it was, ready for collection last weekend, freshly cut for us to take away.
Yes indeed, we actually targeted a perfect 7ft tree with an instruction for it to be chopped down, to enjoy it as the centre-piece of our Christmas celebrations.
There is most certainly a new feeling of rising guilt in my heart – and it has not yet subsided.
Does it help me to know that the tree did not come from a mature forest, where it wouldn’t be replaced?
That instead it was planted as part of a horticultural crop on a working farm where new seedlings will be planted in its place?
That in its lifetime it has absorbed carbon and so will its replacement seedlings?
Or that our purchase supports the farm and our local agricultural economy?
Does it help to know that its tree miles equal just 1.5 and that it’s not travelled from a plantation tens or hundreds of miles away?
That a local hospice is collecting used trees after Christmas to raise funds for its amazing work, delivering them to a farm just 10 miles away for chipping?
Or that this year, we have adopted another Christmas tradition, funding The Word Forest Organisation to plant 10 trees near the Equator on our behalf?
Yes, it does. It all matters. These are questions that I’d never considered in 1994.
I feel that I am on the brink of potential change. If that happens, it would be in small steps, perhaps switching to a smaller pot-grown tree in the next few years, one which we can bring into the house each year. However, having already eschewed other festive traditions and made many inroads into waste reduction over the last couple of decades, the family love of our local real Christmas tree tradition is a very hard one to drop, matching the staying power of the needles on our Nordman Fir.
This blogpost isn’t to seek judgement or justification, or even understanding. It’s not an apology or a celebration. Nor is it a debate over plastic vs real trees. It simply stands as testament to the nature of self-questioning and the emotional history tied into behaviour when we confront voluntary change.
For now, I will continue to love our tree and manage it responsibly. As a tree lover I shall also make it a mission to continue to plant and support tree-planting initiatives throughout 2022 and beyond.
To 2022 and all that we can achieve together. Merry Christmas.
For readers who are interested in the continuing fake vs real tree debate, here is the latest update from the Soil Association: https://www.soilassociation.org/take-action/organic-living/christmas/eco-friendly-christmas-trees-real-vs-fake/