As holiday joy and greetings abound, ‘tis the season to decide on decor for the home. One of the biggest decisions is the tree. Let’s take a look at the history of Christmas trees, study the environmental impact of real versus artificial options, and let’s learn how the World’s largest online retailer, Amazon, is about to revolutionize Christmas tree sales.
Holidays are coming…
The history of festive trees dates back far before the advent of Christianity, to a time when most people believed decorating their dwellings with evergreens would ward away evils.
History of the Christmas tree
Ancient Egyptians who worshipped the Sun God Ra, would fill their homes with green palms to symbolize the triumph of life over death. Ancient Romans would celebrate the solstice with a Saturnalia feast in honour of Saturn. Vikings considered evergreen trees to be the special plant of the sun god Balder. Druid priests decorated temples with evergreens to symbolize everlasting life.
The modern version of the Christmas tree is believed to have originated in 16th century Germany, when people started decorating tannenbaums (fir trees). It is believed that the reformist Martin Luther was the first to add lit candles to a tree, in hopes of recreating the sight of stars twinkling in the forest.
The practice gained momentum internationally when Queen Victoria and her husband of German descent, Prince Albert, were pictured with their children around their own Christmas tree in Windsor Castle. The practice reached America in the 1850s when Christmas trees started to be sold commercially.
Today, it is estimated that 77 million trees are planted each year, with up to 98% of all Christmas trees originating from farms. Holiday trees are grown all over Canada and in all 50 states. It is believed that tree farms are a billion dollar industry that provides hundreds-of-thousands of jobs.
Are Christmas trees really ‘green’?
Most holiday trees are coniferous. They are evergreen, but what is their overall environmental impact? It is estimated that around 33 to 36 million Christmas trees are cut down in the US, and 50 to 60 million in Europe annually. For every tree that is cut down, farmers will typically plant 4 or 5 new ones.
Real vs. Artificial
If your intention is to lower carbon, it is highly recommended to opt for a real tree. Clint Springer, a professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University, recommends “one that still has its root ball attached, so you can replant it after the holidays.”
Doing the environment a favour comes with some catches. Real balled and burlapped trees are heavier, more expensive, and messier than regular cut trees. The roots require soil and water. Going this route requires more attention, and preparation to replant the tree as soon as possible.
Naturally grown trees require herbicides, pesticide, fungicides, and colorant, all of which can potentially do damage to the environment. Trees that cannot be replanted can still be used for firewood.
On the other hand, artificial trees are made up of plastic, metal, and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). They are commonly made in China and shipped from overseas. They require more energy to make and transport and cannot be recycled. It is estimated that the total amount of raw materials needed to manufacture an artificial Christmas tree is roughly equal to the amount required to fabricate an upholstered patio chair.
The choice is yours
If you reuse your artificial tree for a prolonged number of years, the environmental impact tips in favour of the artificial tree. The tipping point is believed to be after 6-9 years. If you do select artificial then it’s recommended you reuse your tree for 10 to 20 years.
A 2017 Christmas tree survey conducted by Nielsen found that 81% of Americans opt for artificial trees while 19% opt for real trees. Other studies show that our global carbon footprint during the winter holidays is 6% higher than the rest of the year.
A new way to get a real tree: Amazon shipping
Good news: The online retail giant, Amazon, will begin selling and shipping real trees just in time for the 2018 holiday season. For the first time, full-sized Douglas firs and Norfolk Island pines will be available fresh, within 10 days of being cut down. $115 for a 7-foot tall Fraser fir might be more expensive than picking one up at a tree lot, but there are some bonuses to consider.
There will also be wreaths and garlands sold, that will qualify for free Prime shipping. Although other websites have previously sold Christmas trees online, the overall online sales only accounted for about 1-2% of the trees sold last year. With the success of Amazon, that could change rapidly.
Will the next holiday tradition be asking Alexa to deliver a new tree?
With predictions that Amazon Prime memberships will surpass 275 million over the next ten years, it’s absolutely the right marketplace. Over the 2017 holiday season, it is estimated that Amazon captured 89% of online expenditures.
Now, Amazon is updating the classic Christmas tree lot for 2018. No mess. No fuss. Shipped direct to your door. Modernize your holidays smartly and treat yourself to pure convenience.
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