This week I bought an artificial Christmas tree and I’ve been trying to justify it to myself ever since. You see I’d never researched the old artificial versus real debate, the pros and cons if you like. We’ve always bought a real tree, that’s how it is. We adore the scent and the sense of bringing a real tree indoors at this time of year … deck the halls reverberates around our home.
However, this year has been different. This year Ian, my better half, aka Mr G. has been working away in the US – Albuquerque, New Mexico to be precise.
Other than a few brief weeks together in the summer, for the past eight months I’ve been home alone with the old farmhouse, our children, dogs, cats, chickens, our garden, my business, new seed collections, homework, after schools activities, the highs, the lows, not to mention the emotional hardship of single parenting … the list is endless but think you get the picture. We don’t have any family here so it’s just me and our three children aged 9, 12 and 14.. There are families all over Ireland faced with similar, difficult situations these days – it’s not just the young ones who’ve had to head off – it’s the husbands and fathers too – so I’m not complaining, there are many facing worse hardships in life than we are.
Thankfully, that’s all about to change as this weekend Ian is on his way home, not only for Christmas but he’ll be staying put, which has added to the usual pre-Christmas excitement and flurry of activity. To welcome the return of their Dad, our children have been very keen to have the house decorated in time for his arrival.
All well and good decorating she says, but normally the fetching of the tree is a job for himself. I drive a small little Fiat with no tow bar, we have a double height sitting room and normally buy an enormous tree. How on earth was I to solve this problem?! I’ve managed every dilemma and hardship thrown at me this year – punctures, crashes, shed and polytunnel doors falling off, no well water, sick dogs, sick children, holiday housesitters, plasterers, broken printers, broken mowers. Many situations have been thrown my way this year, but the tree? Oh heck, the tree. Not one to be thwarted, this week I headed in to town to see what was about – if I could find a tree I’d figure out how to get it home afterwards.
First of all I discovered decent real trees are scarce this year – they seem to be tall and thin, very small and bushy (perfect for a regular sized room but lost in a tall one) or worse, many looked half dead.
Secondly, Christmas trees in our neighbourhood are VERY EXPENSIVE. Locally they were looking for €35 for a four footer, garden centre trees average around €50 for similar, but worse, in Carlow where we normally source our trees – €75 to €100 for a 10 foot tree. Sorry Mr Tree Man, you may have sold 17 at €120 each last weekend but I’m not prepared to pay that for a tree that will be in my sitting room for three weeks. So, as a result of having to make too many decisions on my own, my wish to please my children (perhaps they’ll realise when they’re older just how much we try to please them) and of course to surprise himself (who still thinks he’ll be decorating the house when he returns) I decided that this would be the year we bought an artificial tree.
As a prudent shopper I trudged around every store in town that sells them, weighing them up, cost analysing etc. And came home empty-handed. Do I don’t I, do I, don’t I? This was a decision I didn’t want to make on my own. Really – I’m.Done.With.Decision.Making. The tree would have to wait another week – we’d decorate the rest of the house.
What I hadn’t banked on was spotting trees later that evening outside the local hardware shop. “I’ll just pop in, see what they have”…low and behold the shop assistants were just putting the last few branches onto an 8′ bushy artificial tree. “It’s the last one ~ €80 as we have a sale” (equivalent was €160 in Carlow) “I’ll take it please” so they dismantled it, I paid for it and they carried it to my car where it fitted into the back no problem at all.
Thrilled to have finally made the purchase, the box was presented to the waiting children “oh, we wanted a real Christmas tree”
We unpacked the tree anyway, built two-thirds, realised we’d put it together incorrectly, dismantled it and rebuilt it again. We covered it in (sale price hence blue) vibrant LED Christmas lights and I’m burning eco scented candles for that Christmassy scent. It’s really a very pretty tree. Up on a table it’s 11 foot high. It ticks the boxes.
Until I made the BIG mistake of googling artificial Christmas trees versus real trees after it was twinkling away in the corner of the room. As someone who’s so passionately eco minded I suppose I should have known that artificial trees are made from PVC (a dirty product to make), some contain lead so people are advised not to hoover around them unless they have special filters, and children are advised not to touch said leaded trees for fear of contamination. (Mine doesn’t have a warning sticker so I’m assuming all is well in that department at least). In all likelihood my artificial tree has also travelled thousands of air miles before it made it to my sitting room, having been produced in some far-flung country where workers are underpaid. Great. Everything I didn’t want to hear.
But I didn’t know that when I bought my tree. I thought it was a simple artificial versus real what are our preferences kind of decision, not an environmental one. I was merely doing my best. Isn’t that what we all try to do? Isn’t that what I tell my children to do? Try. Your. Best. So ever since I opened up that page on my PC that answers every question at the tap of a few keys, I’ve been trying to think positively about my decision, to justify it and stop beating myself up about it. I have the tree now, like it or not. Therefore, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on why artificial trees aren’t so bad afterall:
- I shopped locally. I supported my local store by spending my money with them. Shopping locally keeps businesses open.
- This tree will be used for years and years and in all likelihood, will be passed down to one of our children. It’s highly unlikely it will make it to a landfill as we are shocking hoarders (we still have Telly Tubbies and Fireman Sam under the bed). By the time our tree is ready for landfill someone, somewhere will hopefully have devised a method of disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way.
- We will no longer have the stress of trying to find a tall, real Christmas tree. Contrary to popular myth, finding a real tree is a nightmare. It usually involves hours of driving around trying to find a decent one, going back another day with an empty car (I’m clocking up the diesel that’s being emitted year after year with the trips back and forth)
- There is almost always a disagreement over which is the nicest tree. We have never experienced the whimsical family day out with hot chocolate and Christmas songs, the one where we arrive at the local, snowy, tree plantation where we choose and cut a tree. There are none.
- We can put the decorations up early. My children have been pestering me for the past two weeks to venture into our pick and mix attic. We can put the tree up after Halloween if they so desire.
- It goes without saying the expense. At the prices mentioned above for a real Christmas tree, our artificial tree will have paid for itself in just two years. Should we find ourselves in the unlikely scenario of having a spare €50 around at Christmas, I’d sooner support our local markets and craft centres.
So the decision has been made, the job has been done and the house is full of light and cheer. We’re ready and waiting to welcome Daddy home, and now our new tree has been covered with baubles and candy canes, our children love it. I might even name it as it is the newest addition to our family and will be around for years, and years to come.
In the meantime I’m researching the possibility of planting a few small fir trees in our little woodland so that we can reduce our carbon footprint against this artificial purchase and at some point, we’ll be able to walk out the door, cut down a small tree and place it in the porch to greet anyone who visits.
I just hope he likes it 😉