From turkey stuffing to present buying, getting through the festive season often feels like trying to run the 100 metre hurdles up to your waist in water. On a recent shopping trip in search of a suitable Christmas tree, Poppy Watt faced yet another challenge over the subject of whether to go real or fake this December.
“Now that one would look really nice in the living room,” I declared with enthusiasm, rubbing my hand against the white branches of the tree labelled “Wonderland Spruce”.
My eleven year old glanced up at me with a look of consternation.
“Fake trees are bad for the environment, mum and they aren’t recyclable,” she declared confidentially over the chorus of “Jingle Bells” being jubilantly blasted from every available speaker in the department store.
“Check on the internet if you don’t believe me!”
Several hours later, I sat before the fountain of all knowledge (my laptop!) unearthing a few facts about Christmas trees as I deliberated over whether to be traditional (real) or modern (fake) with my tree of choice.
It was all very well my youngster admonishing me about the environment but it wasn’t her that had to “hoover” up the pine needles every day running over the festive season.
Christmas trees are one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebrations of Christmas. They are normally an evergreen coniferous tree, decorated with colourful ornaments and lights, beneath which all manner of gifts are placed in the run-up to December 25th.
However, the artificial tree is just over a century old and originated in Germany. Metal wire trees were covered with goose, turkey, ostrich or swan feathers which were often died green to imitate pine needles.
In the 1930’s the Addis Brush Company created the first artificial-brush trees, using the same machinery that made their toilet brushes! So if anyone asks you where the inspiration for this kind of tree came from, just point towards the toilet and tell them to take a lucky guess!
After a couple of hours staring at the screen, I came up with half a dozen points which left me no wiser and I am sure, will leave you in pretty much the same state.
1. Real Christmas trees are a benefit to the environment and while they are growing, support life by absorbing CO2 and other gases and emitting oxygen. The farms that grow Christmas trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. A farm-grown Christmas tree is 100% biodegradable, so it can be used for all kinds, from mulch to erosion control.
2. Artificial trees will probably be made from a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. Among the materials commonly used in the manufacture of artificial trees are PVC, polyurethane foam and steel. Although you may use it for several years, the average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away; if your tree is not recyclable the chances are it will eventually linger for centuries in a land-fill site.
3. Real Christmas trees are renewable and are grown on farms just like any other crop. To ensure constant supply Christmas tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree harvested. Ironically those of you who think by buying a fake tree saves a real tree should think carefully about how the tree is packaged: normally in a sturdy cardboard box!
4. Real Christmas trees may cause an allergy to those sensitive to tree pollen and tree sap, although this ailment is not as widespread as many would believe. A real tree is unlikely to produce pollen during December so pollen allergies are unlikely. Being outdoors for years in the fields, a Christmas tree can collect pollens, dust, mold or other allergens but then of course so can the artificial tree stored in the attic or basement. Whether you use a fresh Christmas tree from a farm or an artificial tree stored in a box, if you have sensitive allergies it is recommended you spray the tree down with a hose before putting it up.
5. Real Christmas trees are less likely to catch fire and a tree being accidentally ignited is EXTREMELY rare. According to a report from the National Fire Protection Association, a percentage of home fires involving a Christmas tree were due to the tree being a fake one.
6. Contrary to popular belief, real Christmas trees do not have pesticides and chemicals on them; there has never been a scientific research article suggesting that harmful levels of chemical residue exist on Christmas trees, however, there have been studies showing a potential health danger of lead dust coming from plastic trees.
7. One thing it is impossible to argue with is that Christmas trees make a lot of mess!
As this goes to press, I have to admit that I still haven’t decided which type of tree to go for, although my eleven-year-old isn’t letting up on her eco-friendly Christmas message.
Ultimately, it will come down to personal choice and whilst I am keen to support the environment, in these rather lean times, if artificial means I won’t have to worry about buying a new tree for the next ten years, then £100 spent today, is going to prove good value over the term of its lifetime and that has to count for something.