To tree or not to tree..?

  • 18 January, 2010

Discarded Christmas treesIn 1841 Queen Victoria’s new husband Albert introduced a German Christmas tradition into the British royal household. From that point on the Christmas tree has, apart from a small dip in popularity after the death of the Queen, been on the up and up in this country, Western Europe, America and most other parts of the world.

The history of the Christmas tree’s origins are many and varied, but essentially evolve from the Pagan and Druidic celebrations of the Winter Solstice (21st December) this being the shortest day. The lack of daylight inspiring the ‘celebrations of light’ with the encouragement of sunlight for the next half of the year and the hope for a fertile time to come.

A symbol of this was the evergreen tree, which represented eternal life and the promise of replenishment during the winter months.

The Christmas tree is also a Christian symbol of course and is said to have originated its religious roots through the English monk St Boniface who in the 7th century went to Germany to teach the word of God. Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

Unlike in England the fir tree is a native species of Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe and makes up a part of its natural bio-diversity, acting as a habitat for its native wildlife. Even in Germany where this is the case, the fir tree has been through periods of threat and has had legislation passed to protect it from the damage done due to the popularity of having a cut tree indoors at Christmas time.

I am in no way a ‘bah humbug’ person about Christmas and love the celebrations but it breaks my heart to see the cut trees that are discarded after two weeks, laying outside of almost every household, browning on their sides.

It strikes me that this is once again evidence of our detachment to source and in our innocent excitement for the season and with wishes to make it wonderful for ourselves and our families, we forget that it is not just the one tree that we have that is cut, but many trees, almost one for each household. In fact it is reported that 7 million real fir trees were sold in England this last
year alone.

It would please me if some of the land in this country that is used for this non native mono crop were left to be naturalised back into a healthy, thriving and diverse environment. This is a romantic notion on my part of course as that land will be likely to be used to turn a profit and if not for Christmas trees, who is to say it would be used for something more wholesome.

I would like to encourage though that perhaps in approaching the festivities next year we might consider avoiding spending good money on a cut tree that is only to be thrown out in a couple of weeks, putting strain on the environment and local amenities, and rather, gather up our families and take a walk in the country with a pair of secateurs in hand and pick a couple of sprigs of holly or ivy and perhaps a broken branch that could be decorated.

So long as this is done sympathetically, without greed and with good common sense there is no reason why this should hamper the environment at all. In fact a gentle prune will help promote growth of the plant, and in our gathering it ourselves we have filled our lungs with fresh air and stretched our legs.

If indeed we do want a tree and have the outside space to accommodate it why not grow one in a pot and enjoy it all year round, bringing it indoors for Christmas.

With the money that we save every year we might choose to plant a native tree, either on our own land, or perhaps by making a donation or buying a subscription to the Woodland Trust who will strive to plant, proliferate and protect our native broadleaved woodlands. The very woodlands that add beauty to our landscapes and support our native wildlife.

Who’s to say ? It’s not unlikely that such a charity would sponsor some of the land that is released from the fall in demand for cut trees.

Have a good year !