“It’s comin’ on Christmas, They’re cuttin’ down trees …”

And so goes Joni Mitchell’s River, a song I heard a few times this holiday season. While this is not the main focus of her song (having a river that she could skate away on seems to be), it does start off with a contentious idea – we know it’s Christmas when trees are cut down.

I believe the tradition of bringing in a live tree to celebrate Christmas came from Germany in the 16th century. It was likely magical to bring a tree that had lived undisturbed in the forest into one’s living quarters, and to dress it up to have a Christmas flare – which became tradition in many places around the world.

Artificial trees became popular once forests began to suffer with cutting live trees. I have lived through recent times where artificial trees are seen as inferior, but I think we might be turning a corner.

I learned recently that there is a new phenomenon of renting a Christmas tree. Instead of cutting down a tree in the forest, the opposite happens – a tree is raised in a pot, and just before planting, the tree is rented out for a Christmas season. The recipient takes care of the tree, decorates (with a few boundary parameters), and returns the tree to be planted. Ingenious!

And, just to add a little data point of my own – my street used to be lined with spent Christmas trees at the end of driveways for the city to pick up (including my own), but this year, of maybe 70 or so homes, I counted 3 trees ready for pickup this January. This, to me, indicates that far fewer people are buying and discarding live Christmas trees than even 10 years ago.

My family has been using an artificial tree for many years, and will continue to do so. We used to alternate with a live tree, but for some time, we’ve had only the artificial tree.

So, going forward, I hope that people can either rent a real tree or use an artificial tree – and leave Joni Mitchell’s song’s (while being covered by many artists through to present day) lyric of “cuttin’ down trees” a relic of the early 1970’s.