On my way to the elevated subway station today, I caught sight of my neighborhood's most clearcut (pun very much intended) sign that Santa season is fully upon us: Christmas tree lots. I detect the familiar faces of the folksâ€¹positioned, as always, in front of Rite Aidâ€¹hawking pines and firs long since separated from their roots. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, approximately 30-35 million "real" Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year and roughly 100,000 people are employed in the Christmas tree industry.
"As soon as the turkey's in the Tupperware, thoughts turn to getting ready for Christmas," begins one recent newspaper story. "And what says Christmas more than the tree?" Yep, as Thanksgiving is to the turkeys, Christmas is to evergreen. It almost seems to go unnoticed that the enduring symbols of winter's two most celebrated holidays are the annual targets of human killing sprees. You can sing "O Christmas Tree" until you go hoarse, but that tree you just bought is dying before your eyes.
Ninety-eight percent of all American Christmas trees are grown on the more than 21,000 Christmas tree farms; these farms eat up about 450,000 acres of land. It takes about 7-10 years for a Christmas tree to mature, and for every harvested tree, 2-3 seedlings are planted. Think of it like factory farming for firs.
Retail tree lots like the one I passed today are a New York City tradition that dates back to 1851. Thirty years after that, an assistant of Thomas Edison's conjured up the prescient notion of hanging electric lights on Christmas trees. By 1890, such lights were being mass-produced and tree lightings would eventually become the ceremony of choice for those who don't mind triple-digit electricity bills.
Another durable American tradition will eventually mark the unofficial end to all holiday spirit. I'm speaking, of course, about the sight of discarded trees lying near the garbage cans on the sidewalk. Just a few weeks earlier, those trees were leaning almost upright with price tags dangling from their shiny branches. Now they lie horizontal...a few tenacious strands of tinsel clinging to the razor-sharp needles. Like plastic forks, paper plates, gnawed turkey bones, and New York's growing homeless population, we perceive Christmas trees as disposable; they ultimately become someone else's problem.
Before anyone touts the widespread recycling of post-holiday trees, let's recap, shall we? Some 450,000 acres of land are set aside to plant and grow trees destined to be cut down and sold for about ten days' use before being unceremoniously tossed out onto the pavement and we're supposed applaud the time and money our city uses to deal with the subsequent-and predictable-epidemic of dead trees.
The blinking lights go back in the hallway closet and the ornaments get stored under the bed in the guest room long before January's electric and credit card bills arrive. This year's Christmas tree, however, will be history. No longer will it hide brightly wrapped boxes of consumer electronics or display an impaled blonde angel at its highest point. Planted and fattened solely for the kill, that doomed tree will probably serve as a novel target for local dogs on the stroll.
This Christmas, say no to fir...
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.