Christmas Trees

Russell Sadler

“I will not kill another living tree for Christmas,” announced a waitress at a restaurant I frequent. It is a common misconception that cutting a fir at Christmas is killing a tree that will otherwise live.

“Christmas trees are grown to be cut,” I said sagely. “That is their reason for being.” Then I recounted the story of a longtime friend who bought a live, balled tree every year for the last 30 years and lovingly planted each one near her farmhouse in rural Lane County. The trees had grown so large they shaded her garden and cut off light to her sun room. Last spring, she cut down five of the aging Christmas trees, one of them 30 years old. This winter the trunks of those Christmas trees planted decades ago are yule logs, warming her farmhouse. Sooner or later, Christmas trees help us celebrate Christmas.

Oregon has more than 750 licensed Christmas tree growers who cut more than eight million of the 25-30 million trees cut nationally each year. Oregon produces about one-third of the Christmas trees grown in the United States. About half of all Oregon-grown Christmas trees will be shipped to California. More than one million Oregon trees will be exported outside the United States -- mostly to Japan, Mexico, Canada and Asia.

Most of the trees you see leaving Oregon on the highways are Douglas fir, but they will never grow up to be the “money tree” beloved of the timber industry. Christmas trees -- Douglas fir, Grand fir or the popular Noble fir -- are grown in plantations. Here they are “cultured,” deliberately grown with denser limbs than trees found in the wild, by trimming the boughs each year they grow so you can hang more ornaments on them. They are cut and shipped to market after three or four years.

There is no more sorry sight than an abandoned Christmas tree farm. Trees are planted so densely they begin crowding each other out after five years or so. Weaker trees die, topped out by stronger trees, and become a fire hazard.

Don’t worry about Christmas trees you are allowed to cut on public lands, either. The Forest Service deliberately steers you to “overstocked stands” where the small tree you cut and take home would eventually be crowded out by its bigger brothers and left to die anyway. In exchange for thinning the public forest for the Forest Service, you get a “natural” tree that lends that “over the river and through the woods” New England flavor to your holiday.

Modern Grandmothers, of course, are probably driving or flying to the celebration and they would probably rather eat out J.J. North’s Buffet than cook. The tree is brought back in a pickup or SUV instead of a sled and is probably cut down by a chain saw instead of an ax. But no matter. A “natural” tree reeks of nostalgia!

Our traditional view of Christmas comes from our English roots and our nation’s New England beginnings. There’s is no place like home for the holidays by the hearth of a New England farmhouse. Chestnuts roast on an open fire. A rock fireplace is required equipment.

Town is a country crossroads with white clapboard churches with their spires reaching heavenward and snow-covered red barns where the cattle are lowing. Jack Frost must nip at your nose.

It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that Charles Dickens invented Christmas as we know it when he published “A Christmas Carol in Prose, being a Ghost Story of Christmas” in 1843. Scrooge and Marley, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, and Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig were introduced to the world the same year Jesse Applegate’s wagon train arrived in the Oregon Country with 900 pioneers over the Oregon Trail to settle in the Willamette Valley.

This is the American origin of Christmas with its blazing Yule logs under cozy rooftops, plum puddings, smiles, gifts, feasts at the groaning board and -- Christmas trees.

Today, some folks are dispensing with the Christmas tree ritual altogether. Either from the mistaken notion they are killing a tree that would otherwise live or simply because there isn’t enough time. Life is just too busy.

Still, some of us make the time. Christmas trees are one of the cherished holiday rituals in the Sadler family. There are ornaments stored in boxes all year that date back to childhood. It is a thin but durable tie to the family in a day when the parents have passed away and the rest of the Sadler clan is scattered from Cape Cod to Pine Island to San Juan Island.

Judging by the continuing demand for Oregon-grown Christmas trees, a lot of other folks are maintaining the nostalgic ritual, too.

  • maynecoyote (unverified)

    ...and the reason the tree farms were abandoned is that they were used for property tax breaks and were never grown to be commericial to begin with. Just another subsidy that increases residential property taxes.

  • Danny Haszard (unverified)

    What you say about forest management is true.I'm from Bangor Maine home of Paul Bunyan The Giant Lumberjack and Babe the Blue Ox.I'am also a former Jehovah's Witness celebrating my first Christmas.Cheers everyone,Danny Haszard

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Nothing will make you appreciate Oregon Christmas trees than having to spend a couple of years in San Diego, where Oregon Xmas trees cost more than crack cocaine.

    My wife is such a dedicated Xmas tree'r that we put one up and fully trick it out even if we're not going to be home at Xmas. I can't imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree. Even my Jewish parents put up Hanukkah "bushes" every year during my childhood. And, still more astonishingly, Herschel Claus arrived with remarkable consistency on what turned out to be Christmas morning annually.

  • Bill Holmer (unverified)

    What??? Someone from blueoregon believes trees are a crop that's meant to be harvested. Will wonders never cease? Must be Christmas.

  • (Show?)


    How many dozen times have we seen comments to this effect here on Blue Oregon?

    You'd think these guys would eventually get the picture that their stereotypes are faulty.

    On second thought, I guess that would require independent thought on their part. Forget I said anything.

  • Abe (unverified)

    Wow! Russell Sadler! Conservative common sense? First it was Bojack and now Blue Oregon. Perhaps it was the unseasonable amount of sunlight earlier in the month.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    The problem is with blueoregon trolls who see no difference between Christmas tree farms and forests.

  • Occasional Troll (unverified)

    The problem is with blue Oregonians who see so much difference that they want no commercializing of our forests.

  • Andy N. (unverified)

    "I will not kill another living wheat plant this Christmas". That is my resolution. How can people sit by and watch all that wheat be wasted and turned into bread? I don't care how delicious it is...

    oh, wait a minute. Wheat is a renewable crop, just like Christmas trees. Pass the sweet rolls...

  • JTT (unverified)

    Dear Trolls: if you would think for yourself, you would realize there might be a difference between Tree Farms, Forests, and wheat. Tree Farms provide christmas trees. forests provide opportunities for recreation, watershed/habitat protection, lumber, oh...and not to forget: air. Wheat fields, what's your point? To say our forests are a "renewable crop" is simply regurgitating message and forgetting to think for yourself.

    Not to stray off topic, but most Democrats I know stand for responsible and sustainable forest policy. Oregon has a resource based economy, duh. But that’s the key, is responsible and sustainable. As opposed to allowing Georgia Pacific to rape and pillage our resources before moving on to their next destination. Most Democrats have the ability to look at the long term and recognize responsible and sustainable policy. It’s just good business practice for our state. Yes, I said it...good business practice.

  • another occasion (unverified)

    Oh golly we trolls didn't realize that till you told us. I see there is a difference now. Thank you You are very smart

  • ranaaurora (unverified)

    Never liked the bushy plantation trees and always thought that christmas tree farms were a waste of land that could otherwise be utilized for x, y, z or at least a more diverse pasture with some blackberries and oaks. Doug firs in the williamette valley and young ponderosa on the east side of the cascades are the scourge of biological diversity. They invade because of fire supression and shade out diverse oak savannahs and grasslands (on the west) and old ponderosa/juniper grasslands in the east. It takes centuries for a diverse coniferous forest to take hold where there was once grassland. Shaded out trees die and fall, wind storms create openings, ground fires create clearings, and plants and animals slowly invade from nearby areas with more established forests.

    No problem with thinning. In fact there are some disturbing private forests run on a ~30 or 40 year rotation that look a hell of a lot like an overgrown christmas tree farm -- for plywood i guess. Dense growth discourages lower branches that would otherwise create knot holes and decrease the utility of the young trees. Not even a single fern grows under these trees and the fire hazard is obvious. I'm guessing these are genetically identical super trees to boot. It doesn't look pretty and where this type of forest extends for miles and miles in every direction -- it will take many centuries to get back to anything like the pre-existing diversity.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Overuse of pesticides is a major part of the Christmas tree growing industry in Oregon. So while the cutting the tree itself may not be an environmental hazard, there certainly are environmental costs to real Christmas trees, especially in Oregon where organic practices are rare. I say this as someone who still buys one every year. But if someone chooses not to, more power to them.

  • Andy N (unverified)

    JTT - funny how you call people "trolls" if they don't spout your party line...yet you appear the accuse them of regurgitating some other party line. How incongruent of you. If you Democrats would stop insulting people who disagree with you, you might get a bit farther. Oh wait, you're just pretending you're Republicans - right....just demonize people who disagree with you.

    My point about wheat was comparing it to Christmas trees, not forests. The point was that Christmas trees, like wheat, are crops, and beneficial ones to our state economy. People who think they are killing a tree when they use a Christmas tree must also be killing a wheat plant when they eat bread. But I never hear them having qualms about that. Just pointing out the inconsistency there.

  • JTT (unverified)

    Andy- you're right. I overreacted. I think I let the smartasses get under my skin.

  • Tom (unverified)

    JTT... whoops! you let "smartasses" slip out...

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