How many trees are cut down for christmas

The impact of natural Christmas trees on the environment

December is not just the month of the winter holidays, but also the month when people have a more negative impact on the environment, most of the times without even knowing it.

Studies show that, globally, our carbon footprint in this period is by 6% higher than in the rest of the year. That’s because we tend to buy much more, whether we’re talking about gifts or food, because we generate more waste and travel more.

But, certainly, the most visible part of our environmental impact is Christmas trees, which, after many years of growth (exactly how many depends on the origin of the tree), come to decorate our homes for a few weeks, then end up thrown out, most of the time in the garbage dumps around our homes.

It is estimated that annually around 33 to 36 million Christmas trees are produced and cut in the US and 50-60 million in Europe. Even though these are usually fir trees grown especially for holidays, there is certainly a big impact on the environment that can’t be neglected, and the question is if these annual cuts are needed.

Furthermore, the survival of some conifers species is endangered by deforestation, in addition to diseases and the strong natural competition to develop in increasingly smaller areas, because of heavy urbanization. According to members of The Global Trees Campaign, a non-profit partnership between Fauna and Flora International and Botanic Gardens Conservation, there are more than 200 species of conifers around the world that face extinction. However, the Christmas trees trade is not the main culprit in this case, but other factors as well, in strong connection with environmental changes that have taken place over the last decades.


  • Positive impact of Christmas trees
  • Negative impact of Christmas trees
  • How to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas trees
  • Useful tips for Christmas trees recycling

Positive impact of Christmas trees

Not all Christmas trees have a negative impact on the environment, as long as they don’t come from thoughtless forest exploitation. The trees grown on specialized Christmas trees farms are usually selected and acclimatized accordingly in order to require less water consumption. In addition, while the trees are growing, they are removing the carbon dioxide from the air and are turning it back into oxygen.

Most Christmas trees farms plant new seedlings each year, to replace the trees that are being cut down. The saplings can serve as habitats for birds and insects and other wildlife species, being part of the natural cycle. Decaying stumps of cut down trees are still a valuable wildlife resource because they attract all kinds of insects which, in turn, serve as food for birds.

Not only the trees are valuable resources, but also the soil around the trees which is usually covered in grass and flowers, especially plants that like to grow in the shade provided by the trees, attracting bees and other pollinators.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in comparison with artificial Christmas trees, made from PVC and they can’t be recycled, while for natural Christmas trees it’s possible to find another purpose, even if it’s just to use them as fire wood.

Negative impact of Christmas trees

Just like any other farms, Christmas trees farms require certain resources for the trees to grow until they reach the best height to cut them down. For Christmas trees farms that grown trees species that don’t originally grow in a certain region, this means using dirt, water, herbicides, pesticide and fungicides, all substances that can potentially damage the environment.

If the Christmas trees are not grown on specialized farms, uncontrolled forest exploitation can create serious environmental imbalances, climate changes, the development of natural disasters such as landslides or floods, or endanger animals that have forests of conifers as their natural habitat.

All Christmas trees that are not properly recycled and sent to landfills have a carbon footprint because they decompose and during this process they produce methane, and odorless gas that poses a major threat to the climate and to human health.

How to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas trees

Those who are interested in the environment, it is good to do some research and choose from responsibly managed cultures, with a good social impact, with low or no use of pesticides or herbicides and with environmentally responsible policies.

The best option is to try to find a responsible Christmas trees farm as close as possible to you. These tree farms can create jobs in communities near forests, helping to reduce pressure and forest exploitation and generate relevant incomes. In more developed countries these figures can be impressive. In the US, for example, fir trees farms provide 100,000 jobs and an annual turnover of over one billion dollars.

Such farms works with harvesting periods of 8-10 years, at the same time creating a good habitat for different species. However, a poorly managed tree farm can generate negative impacts, a reduction in habitat and soil degradation.

Useful tips for Christmas trees recycling

The best way to minimize the impact of using a Christmas tree is to make sure that it doesn’t go to waste after just a few weeks being used as a decoration for the holiday season. Therefore, here are some practical ways to recycle Christmas trees:

  • Use living Christmas trees that come with their roots intact. The roots and the earth around them can be planted into a bucket with potting soil, sawdust or other type of mulch. The tree should be replanted outdoors as soon as possible. There are even some companies that rent living trees which they replant after the holidays.
  • If you have a garden, the trunk can be used as a decorative piece and it can also serve as a resting spot for birds and other types of small animals.
  • The branches of the tree can be used to protect rows of plants in a nursery from sudden temperature changes.
  • Chopped up Christmas trees are great to make mulch for other plants in the garden.
  • Use the trunk as fire wood, but don’t leave the branches on it because they can send off sparks. If you have a fireplace, the house will not only be warm and cozy, but it will also benefit from the pleasant smell.
  • Those with a talent for different crafts projects can use the tree as wood for various items, such as decorative items, bird houses, jewelry boxes and much more.
  • Remove the needles from the branches and store them in brown paper bags to preserve their pungent smell. They can be used for potpourris and aromatic sachets that work great as natural home perfumes.

If you don’t want to deal with the recycling on your own, most local municipalities have recycling programs for Christmas trees, for free or for a small fee. Just make sure to check the pickup dates and don’t forget to leave the tree in the designated space for this service.

Therefore, can we say that the Christmas tree industry does not have an impact on the environment? No, because this is true, as in the case of other industries as well, but it mostly depends on the consumers if this impact is positive or negative. Choosing Christmas trees from farms that use appropriate, environment-friendly cultivation methods and recycling are the two major factors that make the difference.

Don′t buy a Christmas tree, plant one | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW

The Christmas Trees for the Forest initiative aims to save threatened woodlands during the festive season by encouraging people to donate a Christmas tree to the forests — instead of cutting one down.

"Buy trees instead of gifts," insists Swiss-based Bergwaldprojekt (Mountain Forest Project). The organization wants to bolster native forests that have suffered an unseasonably long and dry summer — due in part to climate change.

Despite the fact that traditional Christmas tree plantations are also struggling to survive this year, 27 million trees will be cut down and decorated in homes across Germany.

Read more: Climate change threatens Germany's Christmas trees

When the holiday season is over, most will end up in landfills — and will emit climate change-inducing carbon instead of sequestering it as they would in living forests.

Real or plastic?

It seems that whichever kind of Christmas tree you choose, real or plastic, it comes with an environmental footprint.

Unlike locally grown trees, the plastic variety are usually imported from across the planet, entailing plenty of emissions from transport; plus they're made of non-biodegradable PVC and — unlike small conifers — are difficult to recycle.  

One sustainable alternative floated in recent years is renting, but even then delivery means there are transport emissions to worry about.

Read more: Christmas trees: Plastic or real? That's the eco-question

Keep it in the ground

The only way to offset the cultural yearning for Christmas trees in Germany and elsewhere might be to plant a tree.

With its Christmas Trees for the Forest initiative, the Bergwaldprojekt will do the planting for you for only €17 ($19.30) — and also ensure the tree's ongoing maintenance and protection.  

"With our tree donation you make family, friends or colleagues a special Christmas present that does not consume more resources but benefits the forest," promises the woodland conservation organization.

Failing crop

Following months of drought in Germany, Christmas tree growth has suffered in plantation forests that struggle to adapt to the dry soils and lack of rainfall.  

Crops have been severely depleted, with up to 30 percent of the Christmas tree crop failing in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia alone.

Christmas trees for a sustainable future

Read more: Germany's Christmas trees threatened by climate change

The German Association of Christmas Tree Growers has acknowledged that shortage of rain has affected tree size, price and availability.

"In some places, it hardly rained between April and October," the organization says on its website. "The soils are extremely dry in these places."

Still, the association adds that popular imported varieties such as the Nordmann fir — which originates in the Caucasus where long, dry summers are the norm — can better endure such conditions, thanks to its deep taproots.

The Bergwaldprojekt, however, would rather see local trees given a chance. 

It aims to regenerate mixed native forests precisely because it believes monoculture forests are less adaptable to annual temperature rises and prolonged drought — especially the shallow-rooted spruce that dominate Christmas tree plantations.

Read more: What's lurking in the German forest?

A biodiverse Christmas

"The Bergwaldprojekt plants indigenous trees in various areas all over Germany to protect native forests," Peter Naumann, a forester with the Bergwaldprojekt, told DW.

Bergwaldprojekt volunteers preparing the forest ground for new growth

"Mostly, we plant the trees in the low mountain ranges — silver firs, common beeches, oaks and hornbeams — but also rarer broadleaved trees suitable for dry and warm areas, such as mountain ashes, sorb trees, walnut trees and Norway maples."

Sponsored Christmas trees will be part of this effort.

According to a 2017 report by researchers at the Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig, mixed native forests are more climate resistant, and therefore have the best chance of surviving in a warming world.

And that's not the only disadvantage of monocultures. Naumann says biodiversity is essential for self-regulating forests that don't need pesticides like  glyphosate.    

"The production of Christmas trees from plantations is not sustainable because native species are not planted that might play an important role for biotopes or weed control," Naumann said.

Wood for the trees

The Association of Christmas Tree Growers insists its members use few chemical herbicides since sheep eat most of the weeds on German plantations.

Meanwhile, due to the long production period of nine to 10 years, an ecosystem of sorts is created "for many living things and plants," the association's website claims.

While Christmas tree growers imply that glyphosate use is minimal, or that imported species can help fight climate change, Naumann insists that monoculture is not a sustainable forest model for the roughly 30 million trees cut annually. 

"The production of Christmas trees is only sustainable if customers go back to spruces, silver firs and pines from native forests, because these trees are cut down as part of the near-natural forest management and are not taken from plantations," he said.

Of course, donating a tree to such a mixed forest will also help the cause this Christmas.

Working together to save Germany's forests  

"Poor old tree". London's main Christmas tree was ridiculed on social media for its dull look

Image caption,

By Thursday evening, the Christmas tree should have been decorated

The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in the center of the British capital is being criticized by Londoners and social media users. The tree seems to them shabby and lifeless.

The UK's main Christmas tree is donated every year by Norway. The tradition began in 1947, the time of post-war hardships, when there was no money in the city treasury for a large festive tree.

This year, the tree did not impress some Londoners who lack branches and splendor in it.

Westminster Council said the 21 meter tall spruce is a generous gift to London from the people of Oslo.

The council spokesman said it was so tall that it would be different from any tree in someone's home.

  • How the "bald" Christmas tree became a landmark in Rome
  • The "abstract" Christmas tree angered the Belgians

The British ambassador to Norway also spoke out in defense of the Christmas tree. "This is exactly what a 90-year-old tree 25 meters tall should look like in the wild," said Richard Wood.

It is necessary to look at the symbolism of this gift, and not count its branches, the diplomat believes. Some of the commentators on Twitter agree with him. In the BBC account, some readers note that the spirit of Christmas should be simple and modest.

"This is a nice tree. And thank you, kind nice people of Norway," wrote one reader. "Just add some green tinsel where the branches broke during transportation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. "

Spruce was cut down by two women - the mayor of Oslo Marianna Borgen and the head of the London Borough of Westminster Ruth Bush.

"It shouldn't have been cut down at all. London now and London after the war are two different things," outraged Twitter user @wkd666. they will not give for Jesus, Santa, or for the generosity from which this tree was originally given.

Brexit symbol

However, these arguments do not stop those who want to "look through the needles" of a gift tree.

Appearance still needs to be taken into account, commentators say, disappointed that the tree, in their opinion, is anemic, anorexic, dull and shabby.

"Just look at the poor thing...I'd throw in a bad leftist joke about Brexit or government spending austerity here, but I just feel sorry for this poor old tree."

A week before the general elections in the country, the temptation to joke about politics is too great. Some see the "ripped" Christmas tree as a symbol of Tory politics, while others, on the contrary, see the state of the economy in the event of a Labor victory.

"How did we piss off the people of Oslo this year?" - ask the third.

By Thursday evening, Trafalgar Square's spruce should be decorated and lit up, so the criticism is expected to die down.

The London Christmas Tree has its own Twitter account. When one of the townspeople called the dissatisfied people on social networks trolls, the Christmas tree account replied: “It seems that I did not take the trolls from Norway with me.”

Image copyright Getty Images

Image caption,

Norway presents the main Christmas tree to the British capital every year. In the photo - a festive spruce on Trafalgar Square in 2017

In which forest the Christmas tree was born

This spruce was planted around 1929 in the forest next to the small lake Trollvann, which in Norwegian means "troll water".

The tree weighs about two tons and, according to Westminster Council, it was raised with love - the foresters talked to it and hugged its trunk.

Image copyright Haakon Mosvold Larsen / Scanpix via Reuters

Image caption

Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen and Lord Mayor of Westminster London Ruth Busch cut down a spruce in a Norwegian forest with their own hands

and then was delivered by sea from Brevik to the port of Immingham.

The first Christmas tree erected in Trafalgar Square was 14.6 meters tall. It was presented by the Norwegian King Haakon VII, who was given asylum by Britain during the Nazi invasion of Norway.

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Video caption Trees Live Berlin View from the capital of Europe

So many cities, so many traditions

While May Day riots are blazing in large cities, in small towns in Germany, the population peacefully drinks beer and dances under the May tree (Maibaum). With the onset of May, it "grows" in the central square. And it brings no less joy than a Christmas tree.

You can see the Maypole in many places - although not all visiting tourists understand what it is. Mast with some icons.

Maypole rises above the rooftops for a long time. All of May at least. Before Trinity and after Trinity. It is possible that all summer. Sometimes all year round.

In Bavaria, the Maypole has a blue-and-white coloration. These are the colors of the national flag, symbolizing the alpine sky and snow-capped mountains. Therefore, it is believed that the Maypole is an exclusively Bavarian tradition. Which is not true.

By the way, it was in Catholic Bavaria that this attribute was for several centuries under a strict police ban - as something "unacceptable and un-Christian." It was only in 1827 that King Ludwig I lifted the ban, recognizing that the custom "has a harmless character and peacefully amuses the people."

Photo: pixabay. com (CC0 Public Domain)

Actually, Maypoles in Bavaria in different regions are completely different from each other. So, in the north of the federal state, in Franconia, they are distinguished by red and white, and not white and blue coloring.

If we cover the entire "distribution area" of these wonderful trees, then the differences are colossal. Somewhere the top of the festive pillar is surrounded by a wreath with a coniferous garland, somewhere - green branches of a "true" tree. In Bavaria, it is customary to attach something like yards to the “mast”, on which local coats of arms and symbols of local crafts, flags, and figures of famous personalities flaunt. In other parts, there are other "extremes".

One or another maypole can be seen in the Rhine Valley, East Frisia, Berlin, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Switzerland. In the Scandinavian countries, where snow may still lie in early May, the tree is erected by the summer solstice (or by the Day of John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24). This is the most important point of fun in honor of the summer solstice. By the way, in Sweden such a festivity (Midsommar) is the second most important holiday after Christmas. But the tree - midsommarstång - in many Swedish cities is still called May: majstång.

Sometimes a birch, sometimes a pine

The northern version of the Maypole is the birch. Sometimes - in its natural form, with a preserved crown, with fluttering branches covered with young foliage.

However, the preservation of the appearance of a birch is usually of a personal, intimate nature. More on this below.

The “public” Maypole is usually a bare trunk, with special, specially made decorations.

And if in the north they take a birch trunk for installation in the city center, then in the south of Germany - only the trunk of a coniferous tree: pine, spruce, cedar.

Ernstbrunn. Main square. Photo: Line29 | Wikipedia

Not a hitch, not a hitch

This is an important principle: a tree should have a tall, even trunk without branches, only crowned at the very top. Choosing such a tree is a kind of art.

After sawing the tree, the crown is removed, and the natural smooth trunk is polished. The straightness of the future festive pillar should be impeccable.

The further south, the higher

Every city, every district strives to erect the highest possible maypole. But the birch "base" cannot be compared in height with spruce or cedar. Therefore, the maximum height of the Maypole in the north of Germany is twenty-five meters, and in the south it can be over forty. Recorded record: Maypole 56 meters high. It was installed, of course, in Bavaria.

The most interesting thing is that in many places such a huge tree is installed manually. But somewhere the local authorities forbid it (because of the risk of the tree falling). Cranes are used there.

Photo: (CC0 Public Domain)

How long does a pole last?

Even the period of "standing" of the Maypole, as we have already noted, is different in different places. In the north, the tree is removed after Trinity. Or at the end of summer. In some places, after sawing a pole, they sell it for firewood. But not just like that, but under the hammer: who will pay more.

Somewhere a removed post is kept until next May. Moreover, in East Frisia it is customary to put it in water so that it does not crack.

And in Bavaria, the maypole is left at the installation site for the whole year. This “cycle of standing” lasts from two to five years. After that, the next tree is felled and prepared to turn into a May tree.

A pole prepared for erection is guarded by local youth. Especially at night. Otherwise - oppose!

Variant of maypole decoration. Photo: (CC0 Public Domain)

Theft for fun

Such is it, the “thieving sport”. While the local youth are guarding their tree, the youth from neighboring towns are trying to steal it. The most frisky manage to appropriate several trees from different places.

It seems that it is simple - came and stole. It's actually worth a lot of effort. First, you need to contrive to steal from under your nose. Secondly, to deliver multi-meter prey to their native destiny. If they are caught along the way, they can seriously kick them.

The aforementioned "athletes" from Weilheim a few years ago managed to steal two Maypoles in one night: from Tankenrein, eight kilometers away, and from Monatshausen, fifteen kilometers away.

Lucky thieves set a price on a stolen tree for a cheated community. They will agree on a price, shake hands - solemnly hand over the festive column to the rightful owners to the applause of the public and to the music of a brass band. As a ransom, they take drinks (a keg or two of beer) and various dishes.

How do people walk under a tree?

Lots of fun. Music, dancing, beer rivers with sausage banks - all this goes without saying. The beer river has a tributary called Maibowle: an intoxicating drink like a crucson, only not from red wine, but from white (with the indispensable addition of sparkling wine), and instead of fruit, they take "enchanted" forest grass, which in German is called Waldmeister, but in Russian - fragrant bedstraw.

Often bonfires are lit, remembering that the tradition of the May holidays is closely connected with Walpurgis Night, which, in essence, was the "holiday" of burning witches.

Unforgettable alpine attraction - performances of cracklers. So in the south of Germany they call people who are called climbers all over the world. Kraxler - those who climb up. Only festive cracklers climb not on mountains, but on pillars.

It must be seen how dexterous guys with bare hands and bare feet fly like a bird to the top of the Maypole. In the most dizzying version - upside down. Or with a liter mug of beer. Not empty, but full! The goal is clear: to dry it upstairs. Then be able to find your way down. Yes, you can’t drink away skill!

You can’t get to the roots

No matter how developed the tradition of “planting Maypoles” is in Europe, its historical roots remain unknown. There is a relationship with the customs of the ancient Germans - with their cult of forest spirits. Some scholars go "even further", finding similarities with the so-called menhirs - the oldest obelisks erected back in the Stone Age.

The most "young" is the medieval German tradition of patronal feasts, when a festive column (Kirchweihbaum) was erected for the consecration of the temple, very similar to the May tree.

What meaning was invested in the image of the shrine directed to the sky - there are also different interpretations on this score. In the era of romanticism, for example, the phallic meaning of the may tree was "discovered" as a symbol of fertility. Current historians say that no material confirmation of this conjecture of free romantics has been found.

In general, it is generally accepted that the Maypole is a symbol of the community, its independence, resilience and prosperity.

Photo: (CC0 Public Domain)

Birch heart

But back to natural birches. They, as said, are installed for personal purposes. Here the symbolism is quite definite. Young people put cut down birch trees in front of the houses of their beloved girls. Sometimes right at home. This custom is common in northern lands.

Variations in the south: felled young fir trees.

As a confirmation of their feelings, northerners hang a heart made of birch wood on a tree. And a verbal confession can also be burned on the heart. Like "love me as I love you."

Attention! In leap years, the opposite custom applies: girls put birch trees near the houses of their loved ones. If you want to follow this custom, make no mistake!

Such a tree costs only a month. At the end of May, the one who installed it must remove it - otherwise it will look like a sign that "I forgot you."

There is also a mixed custom: a birch tree (in the north) or a fir-tree (in the south) is erected on the top of a tall, smooth Maypole. Here, perhaps, there is a call for universal love.

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