The first Christmas tree vendor in New York City appeared in 1851. Mark Carr paid only one dollar to rent the sidewalk space. He was so successful that the following year, his rent was $100. By the early 1900s, the first artificial trees were sold in catalogs; Sears & Roebuck offered a tree made of dyed-green goose feathers, appropriate for tabletop decoration. But it was the Addis Brush Company that made the first artificial trees as we know them today, using the same equipment that produced the company’s toilet bowl brushes. The brush style still prevails, now made through a process that expands far beyond its lavatory roots.
Reusable and sturdy, I always thought fake Christmas trees were good for the environment, preventing the harvesting of their authentic brethren. But Bill Ulfelder, the New York State Director of the Nature Conservancy, seeks to dispel our trepidations by explaining why a real tree is the most responsible purchase you can make during the holidays. Ulfelder explains that fake trees are made with PVCs, which doesn’t biodegrade in a landfill. Not only that, when purchasing a real tree, you’re supporting tons of American jobs. “I don’t think people realize what an important business tree farming is,” Mr. Ulfelder said. “There are about 12,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S. employing about 100,000 people.” Of course my greatest fear in buying a real tree, aside from the minor allergy attack, is contributing in some way to deforestation. Ulfelder clarifies that there are more Christmas trees in the U.S. than people. “Four hundred million nationwide,” he said. “They only harvest about 10%, or 30 million, a year.”
My family has faked it every year — and while Ulfelder provides a solid argument for filling your house with fresh fir, I feel good knowing our family tree is still going strong after 25 years. So what’ll it be for you this year? Real or artificial?
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.