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.” 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.

  • Harry (unverified)

    I am a tree-arian. We only use Christmas trees that have tipped over from natural causes (wind etc). We would never dream of murdering a live Christmas tree. I am also a Fruitarian.

  • Granola McNatureson (unverified)

    I don't even believe in stepping on dead leaves, as I think that would be tantamount to desecrating the bodies of some of nature's wisest souls. In the autumn, my friends and I hold a short but reverent burial ceremony for each and every leaf that has suffered an untimely demise in this way.

    When will people learn that plants are people, too!?

  • ws (unverified)

    I appreciate nature; it's myriad variations in form, texture, and insight it offers into the mystery, wonder, and gift that is nature. Christmas trees are so very much removed from nature to the extent that they call into question, the constructive purposes they're supposed to serve.

    One nice tree growing naturally out in the yard makes far more sense. Put those christmas tree industry workers to a more constructive task that is more in sync with nature and less wasteful of natural resources.

  • martin (unverified)

    Am I the only one that wishes Portland would just plant a Doug Fir in the center of Pioneer Square so we don't have to cut down a new xmas tree every year?

  • Jesse (unverified)

    I'd be down with that.

  • (Show?)

    Happy holidays Kari & Carrie! Thanks for all your work this year.

  • TomCat (unverified)

    Ditto what Katy said.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
    Our traditional view of Christmas comes from our English roots and our nation’s New England beginnings.

    The war on Christmas in America was started by the Puritans in 1659 when they banned Christmas. Due to popular opinion the ban was lifted in 1681.

  • (Show?)

    BOHICA is right:

    "For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county." From the records of the General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony May 11, 1659


  • Karl Smiley (unverified)

    Real Christmas trees are great. I only wish that growing them wasn't so depleating to the ground they are grown on.

    I'd like to wish all a merry Christmas and happy Holidays in all the politically correct and incorrect ways possible.


  • Bill Holmer (unverified)

    Great post, even if it is a verbatim re-run from last Christmas!

    Happy Boxing Day!

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