Faux Fir?

December 3, 2008

We’re hosting Christmas festivities at the Living Small house this year (a first!), and, naturally, we want to set up that most iconic of holiday decorations: the Christmas tree.

But which is Smaller: alive or undead? Should we hand over the cash for a one-use Spruce, or should we invest in an evergreen (n)evergreen? Well, kids, after making my list and checking it twice (thanks to a sleighful of topical pieces, particularly these at TreeHugger, Grist, and the San Francisco Chronicle), I’ve come up with the naughty and nice for both options:


Naughty: The live tree, which was helping absorb CO2 while it was in the ground, stops scrubbing the air upon felling. It likely is coated with pesticides, which can eke out into your house. (Fresh pine scent laced with chemicals? Delish.) The tree is often trucked into the heart of a city or township (carbon emissions!) and trucked back to your living room (more carbon emissions!); alternatively, you and your tree-hunting friends are trucked to the tree farm, pick, chop, and bale your fave, and then truck it back to the living room. This living tree requires water both in the growing stages and at home. It lasts for two, three weeks, maybe, and then has to be pitched. And, if composting isn’t an option, whether on your own property or through a municipal waste program, you may have to send your tree straight to that cruel cement vault — the dump.

Nice: Support your local farmer! Buying a tree from a local farm not only lowers your conifer’s carbon footprint, it also keeps your dollars local and bolsters agriculture in your community. Organic tree farms don’t treat their trees to chemical cocktails, so buying an unsprayed tree is fine for your indoor air quality, assuming no one has allergies. On a touchy-feely level, a real tree, with its attendant scent and tactility, is sentimental for many, and can boost happiness in this increasingly harried season.


Naughty: Three letters: PVC. (Done shrieking yet?) Turns out that fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, the kryptonite of, well, the Earth. PVC releases dioxins into the environment during manufacture, and it off-gasses, too, meaning that your Xmas tree could be secretly degrading your health. Plus, barrels of petroleum go into making and shipping these trees, most of which come from overseas. Fake trees are scentless, of course, so many come with or recommend the purchase of piney aerosol sprays, which contain nasty compounds. You might as well line your nose with Pine-Sol. And remember: fake trees aren’t real, even though they pretend to be. For as many “convincingly real!” trees as there are on the market, there is an equal (if not greater) number of convincingly unconvincing counterfeits.

Nice: No cutting required! The fake tree eliminates the annual trip to the tree farm, which cuts down on emissions, and it cuts down on water usage at home — and it’s (almost) infinitely reusable, which is one of the prime tenets of the Green movement. Plus, it doesn’t aggravate the allergic.

Granted, there are other roads: a live, potted tree; a vintage kitsch tree made of, say, pink aluminum; a handcrafted tree made of felt or balsa wood or found objects. Of course, going tree-free is the greenest option. Given what I know now, I think I’ll concede the green for a season and go trad: we’ll likely pick up a tree from the tree farm outpost stationed seven blocks away (assuming the farm is local and sustainably run) and carry it home on foot. Famous last words, right?

Do you celebrate Christmas? How do you decorate? Tree or no?

Photo: My mother-in-law’s adorable tree, Christmas 2007.


24 Responses to “Faux Fir?”

  1. The Choir said

    And then bearing those famous last words in mind and once you do, you must watch Geraldine Page do the same thing in the 60-minute film version of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” Failing that, read the story aloud on Christmas Eve (right before you watch the finest of all Christmas films, Vincente Minelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis); it’s a tradition with me, either read silently or aloud–as is reading “A Thanksgiving Visitor” on that holiday’s morning before trodding off to the feast.
    And no, I do not watch Easter Parade on Colored Egg Day (or is it “Multi-Shade-American Ova Day”?)

  2. Michelle said

    I would be all for the local sustainable tree if my husband weren’t horribly allergic. As much as I love real trees, I won’t subject him to a “Christmas cold”, as he thought of it as a kid. We have a 1.5′ turquoise tinsel tree–complete with turquoise lights–that my MIL bought us for our first Christmas. It’s tacky, but it holds a few vintage ornaments beautifully and we already own it.

  3. Nice post. My favorite part: “You might as well line your nose with Pine-Sol.”

    We usually go and cut a tree at a local tree farm. This year, we are trying to convince our daughter to o.k. our usage of a volunteer Douglas Fir from our own yard. It’s hard to change traditions. But, hey, she’s almost twenty years old. Moral: make the right choices from the get go.

  4. Jonathan S said

    IKEA, you should know, has a pretty cool tree recycling program:


  5. Choir: Let’s watch redheaded Judy G. at my house this year! And thanks for the reminder about TC’s “A Christmas Memory” — I’ll have to read it this year.

    Michelle: A bane to be allergic, isn’t it? I’m sorry for your husband, though the turquoise tinsel tree sounds positively fantastic.

    Dallan: You know, I fought against my parents’ wishes to go fake for years — up until I was about 25, I think. Then they did, and, while I still protest, I only do so in a very small way. Fitting, right? Good luck convincing your daughter; it’s a tough battle, I’m sure.

    JS: Very cool! I love that they turn the trees into compost. Thanks for mentioning.

  6. Amanda said

    My friend was telling me about these places in Colorado that need thinning in their forests and let you go chop down trees for free and help the forests not burn down. Which is something, I guess. If you have forests in need of thinning nearby. And an axe. And a desire to yell “Timber!”

  7. I wish I lived in Colorado sometimes. In Lakewood, on Garland Street. I wonder if there are forests like that here in Washington… Anyone know?

  8. Grant Wagner said

    Three words: Massive indoor planter.

    Okay, maybe it’s not the most living small friendly, but I love indoor plants, and there is no good reason why a evergreen can’t be one of them. A well designed permanent planter and you have high quality air all year round.

  9. Maybe I’ll do up the lemon tree instead… Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. mom-in-law said

    As owner of the “adorable” tree, I feel I need to share my (still developing) tree philosophy. I feel fortunate to have a local tree farm right nextdoor to the school where I work. We watch the trees grow and change all year from the play field. No evidence of pesticides, but I will check on that before next year’s visit. I stop at the farm on the way home, wander through the field of trees, and try to pick one that seems crowded and surrounded by new sprouts. This year, when I voiced concern to the funny old farmer, he replied with, “Well, it’s kind of like people; you have to get rid of the old to make way for the young.” Didn’t feel real great (ancient as I am), but this method of tree procurement seems most suitable to me. A local farmer is supported, more trees are growing, my tree is cut with a hand saw, and I have minimal guilt. I am all for developing new traditions, however! Love to see the creative alternatives!

  11. I like your method, mom-in-law of mine. And I like that you’re using the tree farm by the school — very local, indeed. I can’t wait to see this year’s tree.

  12. Amanda said

    Good peeps live on Garland street :).

  13. kristina said

    I like the real tree..but we found we hardly ever had Christmas at our house..always at my parents or my husbands house, so we got a fake. Better than having un-decorate the tree and toss it before Christmas, or having it dry out and combust or something. I think you can buy a permit to cut from forest land in Washington..my parents used to do it..if not…Idaho still does..if you would like a road trip. I think the a green way to go is head to a goodwill and buy a fake tree. That way you aren’t killing a real tree and your recycling one that may go to a landfill…and you can resell/donate it if you don’t want to store it in your little home.

  14. I simply worry about what a fake tree is made of — even one from the Goodwill. What’s more, I like to support local farmers, and since we’ll be around this year (to stave off drying and combustion!), I think we’re going live.

  15. […] A sweet tree skirt — literally — for your faux or factual fir. […]

  16. […] it around your Christmas tree (real or otherwise) and hide that hideous tree stand with a real-deal tree skirt, courtesy of those crafty kids at […]

  17. […] 14, 2008 So you’ve got your tree. You’ve whipped up your tree skirt. Now it’s time to priss-out your pine with all the […]

  18. Emily said

    Ok… I finally, truly went Small and got a small (literally) tinsel tree. I couldn’t bear to have a faux fir and couldn’t bear to spend $60 on a 3′ real fir either. I love it, but feel a wee bit sad that the yummy smell won’t be part of the holidays this year.

  19. I love your tiny tinsel tree. The pics are lovely, Emily!

  20. Kissley said

    When we was livin’ in the ghetto back in the day (before the CD became a posh place to live) we couldn’t afford a tree, real or fake. My mom took all the Christmas cards we received and tacked them onto the wall in the shape of tree. Now that’s some ghettotastic holiday recycling. Word.

    P.S. Did you get our Christmas postcard? We stamped them ourselves!

  21. Loves it. And we did get the Xmas postcard — and we loved that, too! Very hip. Did you get our (un-hand-stamped) card?

  22. Kissley said

    We received your card today! Very cute and lovely penmanship! Happy Chrismukkah!

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