Dreaming Of A Green Christmas

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Mistletoe hanging isolated on white Mistletoe hanging isolated on white

By Marilyn Pribus –

As a bonus gift to yourself, your community and your planet, why not make this year truly green? Here are some easy ways. 

An Artificial Tree Or a Real One?
The first artificial trees were constructed in Germany in the 1800s and employed green-tinted goose feathers. In 1930, a British business called Addis Housewares Company, created trees made from animal-hair bristles—the ones used for their toilet brushes, but dyed green. These “bristle” trees became popular on both sides of the Atlantic and led to other artificial trees from aluminum to plastic.

Artificial trees are convenient, always the right size, and reusable. They don’t drop needles, need water, or trigger allergies. On the other hand, they are generally made from metal and petroleum-based plastics, so they are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. As many as 85 percent of artificial trees are imported from China, so must travel a very long distance.

Statistics from the National Christmas Tree Association and the USDA reveal that about 10 million artificial trees were purchased in 2016. Nearly 35 million natural trees were bought, mostly from nurseries or tree lots benefitting various community organizations. About 16 percent of consumers cut their own.

Christmas trees are raised on some 15,000 U.S. farms and take about 7 years to reach “harvesting” size. These farms cover some 350,000 acres where the trees—at every age—consume carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. Still, they are agricultural products, which means applications of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.

At the end of the holidays, some artificial trees are discarded, but most are bundled away until next year. In many neighborhoods, Boy Scouts, or other organizations, collect natural trees to recycle or compost.

In short, both natural and fake trees have an environmental impact, with a slightly higher impact by artificial ones. The more years an artificial tree is used, however, the less its impact. 

Another option is a living tree which can be planted in the yard. Weight issues, including the dirt ball, mean these trees must be fairly small. In addition, conifers are dormant in winter and indoor warmth may confuse them into starting to grow, which means they seldom thrive when replanted in the cold outdoors. Ideally, living trees should not be inside more than a week before being planted and thoroughly mulched according to your nursery’s directions.

Green Décor
A wreath on the door adds a holiday welcome to any home. You can purchase wreaths many places, including Charlottesville’s Holiday City Market every Saturday from November 25 through December 23. You can make your own by purchasing a framework at a craft store or forming your own base from Styrofoam or coat hangers. Some people enjoy creating their wreaths annually from fresh greens, while others prefer a permanent wreath to use year after year.

Use evergreen sprigs from your yard as well as cuttings of pine, ivy, holly, or magnolia and punctuate with pinecones, seedpods, bittersweet, or berries. Permanent wreaths can be crafted from sea shells gathered on vacation, ribbons, dried vines, small no-longer-used toys, candy, feathers, fruit, or more.

Garlands for stair rails, mantels, or the tree can be made from the same materials as wreaths. Set the youngsters to stringing cranberries or popcorn. (Day-old popcorn is less likely to shatter since it’s a bit stale.) 

Awaken your children’s creativity with colored paper, old holiday cards, colored pens, and glue. They always enjoy making paper chains from construction paper or the colored foil wraps florists use on potted plants.

The Internet has roughly a million ideas for holiday crafts for children and adults and many recycle items you already have on hand. For example, the bottoms of plastic bottles often have interesting shapes to convert into ornaments and plastic milk cartons can be cut into leaves or other festive shapes. Get out the tin snips and turn the ends of cans into shiny stars or snowflakes.

Lights! Lights! Lights!
LED lights are a remarkable enhancement to green décor. They don’t break, come in vibrant colors, and best of all, use 80 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. While their initial cost is higher than incandescents, they lower electric bills and last considerably longer.

People who don’t celebrate Christmas, yet want their homes to be festive and lighted, might opt for an LED candle-style light in each window, so very appropriate with Virginia’s Colonial tradition.

Always be safe
Unfortunately, the holidays are prime times for house fires. For example, fireplaces whose chimneys aren’t cleaned regularly can be a hazard.

Fresh live trees are less likely to catch fire, so avoid any tree which is already shedding needles. Natural trees suck up a surprising amount of water, so check the tree base every day to be sure it is full. Keep the tree away from fireplaces, candles, and heat vents.

Be sure all lights have the UL lab-approved label and check the wires every year. Never use indoor lights outdoors, and always turn off inside lights when you leave home or go to bed.

Keep candles on trays or plates to protect furniture. Keep them away from walls, greenery, and things above them like lampshades, draperies or holiday decorations.

By pursuing a “green” strategy this year, your holidays can be both happy and eco-friendly.


Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County. After the holidays, they set their tree outdoors to provide shelter for birdfeeder visitors, then lop off the branches for mulch in the spring. The tree trunk is cut up with the largest piece saved as the Yule Log for next year.

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