THE REAL Christmas tree is the most beautiful and original decoration for Nöel, but have you ever considered where, and how, the trees are grown?
Most children will tell you that Father Christmas comes from the north, and this is not something that has arrived by accident! The clever invention of using a majestic tree to provide the highest support for the decoration that represents the ‘northern star’ – the light of which is said to have brought the three wise men to Jesus – has become ingrained in our whole appreciation of Christmas as we see it today.
The Romans and Egyptians, from early times, were known to decorate their homes with palms, but the tradition to use the type of tree we use today at Christmas possibly began in Germany in the 16th century, and Britain’s Queen Victoria embraced the idea on her marriage with her German cousin, Prince Albert.
The natural habitat of the best Christmas trees are also found in the extremes of the north. Northern Europe and Northern America are home to many plantations of Christmas trees – of which there are now more than 23 different varieties worldwide.
In the past, Christmas trees were often harvested from wild forests, but now almost all are commercially grown on tree farms. To give you an idea, there are 180,897 hectares used in America for the cut Christmas tree market, and if you are worrying about the environment, an article published in Wired Magazine in May this year stated: “A tree absorbs roughly 1,500 pounds of CO2 in its first 55 years… A well-managed farm acts like a factory for sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, so the most climate-friendly policy is to continually cut down trees and plant new ones… Plant seedlings and harvest them as soon as their powers of carbon sequestration begin to flag, and use the wood to produce only high-quality durable goods like furniture and houses.” Obviously, this means that the young Christmas trees are a type of by-product for this farming method.
Each commercial operation has to abide by laws that control the planting and replanting of specific types of trees that combine with the other indigenous species to provide food and shelter for wildlife during the number of years required to reach their required height. Every tree that is grown will eventually make way for another, with a cycle that runs over many years – normally between 8 and 12 years.
The tradition to use the Christmas tree came to this country only 50 years ago, and any tree cut for Portugal, especially for delivery to the Algarve, needs to be able to survive well during the festive season in warmer temperatures.
Of all the different species of firs, cedars, cypress and pines available in Europe, there is only one that meets all the criteria, including aesthetics and authenticity, for Portugal: the ’Nordmann’ – the king of Christmas trees!
The Abies nordmannia is known for its lush, shiny dark green, flattened needles, with a silvery-blue colour underneath. These pretty trees make regular whorls of branches and have a strong, pleasant aroma. Delivered in all sizes from very small to shopping-centre-huge, they are very popular in the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland and across Europe for their bright foliage, attractive shape and the length of time they hold their needles once cut.
Choosing a tree for Christmas can be as important as choosing the presents themselves. Don’t forget too, that when you go to collect your Christmas tree from your local nursery, you need to be able to fit it in your car or have it delivered. After all, drunk driving is just as bad as dodgy tree-transporting!
To continue helping the environment, you should also find an environmentally friendly way to dispose of your tree after Christmas. Ask your nursery to advise you, and make sure the staff have the information to reply correctly.
Presents for Christmas:
Very few of us in the Algarve actually spend time working in the garden, unlike in the UK or other countries where the earth and climate are more forgiving, but we do take pleasure in being involved in how the garden looks and how we decorate our homes. Giving plants for Christmas will provide instant pleasure, and there is next to no gardening required, and they are ideal for those without a garden!
For a budget of around 10 to 20 euros, you can offer a flowering plant, presented in a vase, which will last longer than most presents, and that will show more thought and personality.