If you’re thinking of buying a Christmas tree: read this post and the letters from the reader who prompted it.
One of my new year traditions is taking pictures of the huge number of trees my neighbors throw out after the few weeks they put them in their homes. How much more obvious it can be that they’re celebrating a pagan holiday from northern Europe than celebrating snow and fir trees when they’re supposed to be celebrating a birth in Bethlehem?
But celebrate it they do, with traditions that may once have made the world a better place, but now undermine values like Stewardship or Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You: chopping down trees grown where biodiverse forests could be, then filling landfills with them or burning fossil fuels to mulch them.
Last January, a reader in England responded to my post to describe his family’s tradition celebrating Christmas without chopping down trees. I copied the letters and his picture below. Note the emotion. I read that he and his family enjoy the holiday more, not less. (Yes, I’ve waited since January to post this post).
If you think: But I want to maintain our lovely tradition, remember all traditions change. Celebrating in northern European pagan style obviously started long after Jesus died. Bethlehem doesn’t see much snow.
Why not start new traditions of celebrating in sustainable style?
How many trees did Jesus cut down?
How much fossil fuel did he extract and burn?
How many airplane trips did he take? Why not match him on each?
His first email to me:
Morning Mr Spodek, this is a reply about your Christmas tree item.
While there is still a small Christmas tree in one room in our house I have maintained a tradition started by my mother in response to my dad being brassed off about pine needles jamming up the vacuum cleaner and the other mess they make. Mum decided to have a “Branch” .
This photo is from 1977. So all those boys are now in their late 40’s.
My mum was then in her late 60’s.
So I have continued and this year a got my branch off the pile of trimmings in a public wood a short walk away. After use I put it back on the same pile having removed the decorations.
I have photos from previous years too but will only fill your inbox with them if you ask me for them.
W. A., Sheffield, UK.
His second email to me:
I would be proud to be mentioned in your letter. I am a member of the “Eco group” at my local church, and one of our objectives is spreading the word about good practice. Getting good practice on the other side of the Atlantic sound like “Spreading” to me! 🙂
The branch in our dining room has been a different shape over the years. I have a few pictures I could sent you if you would like to see them.
He also included a photo of “Grandma’s not a tree” that they put up this year. They are going to leave it up because they like it so much. He lives in a house in west London.
My wife had a “significant birthday” that year. 2017:
This branch was pruned from a tree that overhung the service road around the allotments site 2018:
A more restrained 2019:
I have enjoyed looking back at some good times whilst finding these photos. There is another generation of small children who know this tradition now. My son’s son is 7. And my daughter’s children said they wanted to come to ours as we did Christmas “best.” No pressure! The house we live in is a Victorian terraced house. I have kept as much of the original decorations and fittings as possible. The main change has been the increase in insulation, double glazing and most recently an air source heat pump.
2011: Some beech prunings. These graduated to my allotment where they supported peas.
Dec 2013: Went mad that year. Had a branch from both corners of the dining room. 🙂 The clock still worked until recently. I inherited it from my dad.
Bottles of spirits featuring on to of the glasses cupboard!
We stayed at my daughter’s house over Christmas for a couple of years.
2016: We had a house full. A different support technique. The bit of timber is functional holding up the base of the branch. There is very fine string, cotton, tied to both sides of the branch.
A close of of some pretty owls.
UPDATE: He sent a picture of his 2022 Christmas tree branch with the note “A bit of fallen Sycamore from the wood. Beech has a better form and is easier to decorate. Happy Christmas”:
UPDATE: He wrote that his nephew started the practice, writing “Our twig is now a year round feature and becomes festive with the addition of baubles!” and sharing this picture
A couple readers wrote about the post. One wrote:
My wife doesn’t really care about being environmentally friendly but she LOVES the look of the Christmas branch more than a Christmas tree… So next year I may be joining the “Christmas branch” club! Haha thanks for sharing this! What an awesome idea.
Another is more sarcastic and wrote:
Christmas trees – what a great perspective that is likely to have your behavior called out as unAmerican and belief that you must certainly be an atheist. And that reader of yours in England, the story about the family’s practice seems just a little too unconventional. It made me wonder, what other traditions associated with the purportedly magic of Christmas are you likely to attack? You grinch, you.
To clarify, it was friendly.
UPDATE: Another picture from his family, with the description: “I got this picture from my eldest brother of his “not a tree”. As the saying goes in my family, ‘there is no accounting for taste.’ I mean if we all liked the same thing life would be boring and I would have to queue longer where I go!”
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