Today we went out and got our Christmas tree. It was a beautiful day and the tree farm just opened up yesterday. I hooked up the trailer and we piled into the RAV4 and headed on down to the farm. They were busy at Shawnee Trail Tree Farm. I asked the helpful gentleman working there if the had any live trees and he said they had live trees all over the place…I clarified asking “do you have any live trees, like, you’d plant in the ground?”
“Oh, yeah over here. You’re the first person to ask.” He walked over with us revealing three long rows of trees with their roots in “ball” form, wrapped in burlap. I was a bit disappointed we were the first ones to ask. With so many people I had hoped more would be interested in this earth-friendly alternative to cut live trees. The family and I spent about 15 minutes examining our options, there were plenty to choose from and after a few moments of deliberation we picked out a nice pine tree, not sure what kind, but it looks to be a spruce of some sort. It looks just like the one we got last year, though a little taller and larger.
As you may recall, I pre-dug a hole not far from where last year’s tree is, just off the driveway. Since the new tree is alive, it’s important to have somewhere to plant it after the egg-nog wears off the week after Christmas. The ground could be frozen so digging the hole ahead of time is paramount. Also I dug a temp hole, or rather a shallow depression with a mound of dirt around it, to stage the tree in before Christmas so we can enjoy it, lights and all, until we bring it inside. The live tree comes inside about a week before the big day. We place it in a bucket and that’s about it. We don’t even water it because it’s only inside for about 1-2 weeks. Then the tree is transferred to the pre-dug hole where it will live and grow.
So this got me thinking, what are some ideas for living a “greener” holiday, that anyone can try? Here are five tips I’d like to share with you. They aren’t that difficult and don’t cost anymore than their not-so-green alternatives.
1) Buy a living tree that you can plant after the holiday
You have three options when it comes to holiday trees: 1) artificial, 2) cut, previously alive and 3) live. This is our second year getting a live tree with bur lapped root ball for our “main” tree and we’re hooked. Our 6’+ tree cost $45 this year which is a bargain compared to live trees you’d buy in the Spring or Fall at a garden center. Our local tree farm offers three varieties including Norway and blue spruce, so we don’t have to get the same type of tree every year if we don’t want to. Then when the holiday is over, we have a new tree to add to our landscape that we can treasure for decades to come. We even celebrate previous year’s trees by decorating them with lights…so if you spot an evergreen tree in the yard with lights, you’ll know it’s one of our past Christmas trees.
If you’re still stuck on the other two types of holiday trees, we have a few artificial trees we put up elsewhere in the house in fact, there are ways to be more sustainable with those too. For artificial trees, look for ones that are well made and made in America if possible. Look for trees that are not pre-lit. While it’s more work, you won’t feel compelled to throw out the tree if the lights don’t operate anymore. As for cut trees, don’t feel like they aren’t sustainable either, they are typically grown on local family farms and visiting with the whole family to cut a tree down, builds strong family memories. Look for farms that grow their trees organically. This will keep chemicals out of your Living Room and the environment. Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer, and shop elsewhere if they use pesticides. When the holidays are over chip the tree up and compost it, or cut it up to create ground cover for small animals on the perimeter of your property. One other option is to tie it to a cinder block and submerge the tree to create a small reef for pan fish in your lake or pond. Do not burn your tree in the fireplace as this is bad for your chimney (you’ll burn your house down kid!).
2) Buy LED holiday lights
LED lights are easy to find the store these days, and you’re no longer limited to cool white (bluish) colored lights. Pick what you like: warm white, cool white, or color lights and go wild inside and outside. You can even purchase solar-powered lights that don’t require a cord. For us, these are perfect for our previous year Christmas trees planted in the woods, far from an outlet. The cost is coming down on LED’s. Some of that added cost is offset with lower electricity bills because they use a lot less power than traditional incandescent bulbs. For me though, the biggest selling point is that LED’s don’t burn out as quickly which means I’m not chasing burnt out bulbs. If you have multiple strands of lights, regardless of type, try to buy all the same kind so you can interchange the bulbs when they do burn out, ultimately putting all the burnt bulbs on one strand and salvaging the others. Home Depot recycles holiday lights and even has a coupon program good towards the purchase of new lights at their stores. Don’t throw old light strings in the trash, recycle them.
3) Give “consumable” gifts
Most of us have enough “stuff” as it is, and if we don’t, we typically just go out and buy it for ourselves anyway. We just bought a new coffee maker on Black Friday, for ourselves, for example. Also, as we get older, the physical things that would make our wish list typically cost more than anyone would be willing to spend on us, (yes a new Lexus hybrid would look incredible in my driveway by the way). So, why not focus on what I call “consumable” gifts. Items that don’t end up sitting in a cupboard with dust on them after 6 months, such as food, wine, or gift cards. Also tickets to events or even the movies are great because they get people out of the house, and typically result in experiences that they’ll remember throughout the year. Many of these items help support the local economy, or can support enterprises that are environmentally sustainable – e.g. wine from a local green winery, tickets to the theater downtown or join your recipient for a day at the spa. Typically these are things that people wouldn’t buy for themselves anyway. The possibilities are endless and most likely are more thoughtful or personal than a random item off of a list….(of course if you want to buy me a lease on that hybrid, I’m fine with that too). Another option is to donate money to a charity in the recipient’s name, but we’d include something special for the recipient too. Don’t just give to charity and call it a gift. For example donate to the zoo, but the also treat them to a fun day at the zoo. Or maybe treat them to a round of golf, and make a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of all the time they spend looking for their golf balls in the woods.
4) Give personal gifts
If you must give a physical thing, why not make it personal. Make something. Even if you’re not “artsy“, we all have a pile of photos sitting in our phones and digital cameras. Put together a photo album (or DVD, flash drive or something in the “cloud”) with pictures the person would love, and appreciate finally being accessible outside some camera in a drawer. Find an eco-friendly frame and print out a quirky photo from your last vacation together or a picture of a treasured loved one. If you really want to go nuts, learn a new hobby or skill and share the fruits of your labor with others this holiday season….make them a four course meal, give them some home-made brew or sew them organic fabric hand warmers. We’re all creative in our own way, and I guarantee they’ll love your gift. Another option is to give the gift of your time. Catch up with an old friend, or go fishing with a relative, or take your parents out to dinner. Put the phone down and play with your kids or take your spouse out on a date. All of these cost virtually nothing and are more valuable than anything you’ll find in a store.
5) Take a deep breath
This is more of a social and mental gift, but this time of year is crazy. It’s a natural time of resetting; an end and new beginning. Help yourself, and the world around you, by taking a deep breath. Find time to be alone and think of all you have to be thankful for. Think of everything that you would miss if it weren’t in your life, or in the world….kids, family, friends, pets, big cats, starfish, people who look different from you…fresh air, clean water, and food….a diverse and colorful world out there…the list is essentially infinite. Resolve to see what you can do in the coming year to make sure future generations have just as much bounty, and freedom, as you and I have been blessed with. Then go out there and share your love with others. Tell them, show them, how much you appreciate them; friends and strangers, alike. Take the high road when you can….let that guy have that parking spot, or find a mental diversion while that lady in line ahead of you tries to make using coupons look like quantum physics. And be aware, life with you isn’t always roses and rainbows. Take a deep breath. Admit that life isn’t perfect. Know that you are not perfect. Make life easier and more enjoyable for others. We only get one shot at this, and we’re only here temporarily. We don’t truly own anything, eventually it all turns back into dust. Don’t spend precious time tricking yourself to think otherwise. You can basically count on one hand that which is eternal and truly matters. Be kind and gentle. Be giving. Be open. Love. Live.