By Kimberly Sevilla
Christmas comes a few days after the Winter Solstice, which falls on December 21 or 22. Ancient Romans, Egyptians, Celtic Druids, and Vikings decorated their homes and temples with evergreen branches during the solstice season as part of celebrations dedicated to various gods for the days becoming longer and spring returning. Objects like gold and silver balls, candles, and fruit and nuts were used as part of the decorations.
It’s Germany that is credited with the Christmas tree. It was common to have a tree in German and Dutch homes at this time of year, but most Americans thought it was an odd, pagan tradition and did not have Christmas trees. In fact, strict puritan laws forbade Christmas celebrations altogether. The laws were revoked by 1681, but Christmas was not celebrated in New England until the mid 1850s, when a large influx of German and Irish immigrants moved into the area. Southerners, however, always celebrated Christmas and considered it a holiday.
Christmas trees are a crop the same as cut flowers or broccoli. When you’re buying a live tree, you aren’t “killing” a tree any more than you would be “killing” a rose or a cauliflower.
Christmas trees are grown on farms, and for every tree harvested, one to three trees are planted. Most Christmas tree farms use land that is fallow and unsuitable for other types of farming. The trees generate oxygen, create habitats for birds, prevent landslides, and absorb CO2. Close to 400 million trees are grown on farms in the United States, and about 30 million are harvested each year. Each Christmas tree farm consumes 12,000 lbs of CO2 per acre. That’s enough to offset the emissions from two cars.
In contrast, artificial trees are everything but green. Made of PVC in Asia, they’re shipped long distances, using a lot of fuel. They can’t be recycled and are more susceptible to fire than a real tree. An artificial tree would have to be used for 15 to 20 years to offset its carbon footprint vs. using a real tree over the same period of time. In New York, it would cost about $1,000 to store an artificial tree over that time period.
Most Christmas trees are conventionally grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are minimally treated, however, and the chemicals are applied every few years and have a minimal effect on the environment.
Trees in New York can be recycled, and the city has a MulchFest every holiday season. In January, trees are collected and turned into mulch that is used in dog runs and around trees in parks. Holding onto your tree until the collection date will prevent it from going to the landfill.
More than 24,000 Christmas trees were recycled in New York City in 2013. Trees can be picked up curbside, or you can bring your tree to one of several drop-off sites, which can be found at NYCparks.org. Last year there were locations in McCarren and McGolrick parks.
The top-selling trees are balsam firs, which have long flat needles, Fraser firs, with short, dark needles, and my favorite, Douglas firs, which have short needles and an excellent aroma.
Choosing a tree is a matter of personal taste. Try to select one that is full, has a nice shape, and stands about a foot or two below your ceiling height. Give the tree a shake to see if any green needles fall off, and then gently pull on a branch to see if any come off in your hand. If a tree is fresh, very few green needles should pull off. Make sure your tree has a fresh cut on the trunk before you put it in the stand.
It’s important to keep your tree watered. If maintained correctly, it should last indoors for about a month. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off the branches; it also keeps the tree fragrant.
Trees can drink up to a gallon of water a day when they first arrive.
Safety is important. Never leave a tree lit overnight or when you are not home. Don’t overload the wires. Most light strands can be connected for a maximum of three strands.
Make sure you have a separate plug for every three strands; a good rule of thumb is one strand of 100 bulbs for every foot and a half of tree. A seven- to eight-foot tree should use about five strands of lights, requiring two outlets.
There are lots of tree stands that pop up during the holidays, but I encourage you to support your local businesses. Money spent with them stays in the community, and that’s a good thing for everyone. If you’re tight for time,
Rose Red & Lavender offers pre-lit Christmas trees, delivered and installed. All you need to do is decorate.
Rose Red & Lavender
Flowers, Plants and Beautiful Things
653 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211