We all love Christmas Trees, they’re great for decorating our homes in the dark winter months, and its a great place to hang lots of cute ornaments and baubles! But how did they find their way into our traditions?

 

Image Source: Kayleigh Hubbard 

A History of Christmas Trees 

Evergreen fir trees have been used for thousands of years to celebrate winter festivals and there are many stories about where the tradition came from. It is said that trees were used as decoration in the winter to remind people that spring is on it’s way, or by Christians where the tree is a sign of everlasting life with God. Perhaps it was simply the only remaining plants that were green over the winter months. 

 The practice of bringing Christmas trees into homes has been in Europe since at least the 1600s, but only truly gained popularity to Britain in 1840’s where they were made very popular by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. 

 

Are Christmas Trees sustainable?

 Aside from tradition, todays debates about climate change sparks the discussion whether putting a tree up every year is sustainable. With millions of Christmas trees sold in the UK each year, there is a worry that cutting down so many trees will destroy valuable wildlife habitats and take away a mechanism for carbon capture (The Guardian, 2014). With this thought in mind, many opt for an artificial tree.

 However, a study by Ellipsos (2009) found that an artificial tree would have to be used for more than 20 Christmas’ to be more sustainable than cutting down a real fir tree. If a Christmas tree is FSC certified then there is no harm to forests - due to demand, Christmas trees are farmed like any other crop, grown specifically to be cut down each winter. And whilst it can take a christmas tree 7-12 years to grow to 6ft, in this lifetime it can capture 1 ton of carbon (Huffington Post, 2013)!

 

The biggest sustainability issue for Christmas trees is their transportation and disposal. Do you ever consider where your Christmas Tree has travelled from or how far you have to travel to get it? For those truly sustainability-conscious people it’s better to buy a tree that is grown in a container (not to be confused with containerised, which are trees grown in the ground then placed in a pot with its roots cut on the run up to Christmas). Trees grown in a container can be used year after year given the right care, thus limiting the miles it has travelled, and saving yourself a bit of money each year!

 If you have an artificial Christmas tree, and you think it’s seen its fair share of Christmases at your home, then donating it to charity or re-selling it is a much more sustainable than sending it to landfill. If you have a real tree without roots, then save it for firewood (which I'm sure will be needed when winter finally arrives!) or compost for flowerbeds in spring.

It is common practice in Europe to use evergreen foliage as a weed suppressant and to keep soil warm and protect plants over winter. It also makes the soil green when it would otherwise be empty while it waits for its spring bedding which is much more attractive than soil.