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I got the call at 7:37 the night before.

“Matt, can you work tomorrow?”

“No problem, boss,” I said, “What’re we workin’ on?”

A dramatic pause.

“We’re chipping the Christmas trees,” he said.

I paused before I replied, “I’ll be there.”

What Happens to Christmas After Christmas?

I’ve never been a fan of the winter holidays. Give me Earth Day, or maybe Cinco de Mayo to celebrate my appreciation for Mexican culture. Nothing about Christmas or New Year’s really grabs my attention. Besides my admitted aversion to all-things Christmas, I’ve always been at odds with wastefulness. Maybe it’s because I’ve had that first-hand look at what goes on behind the scenes.

My first professional foray into the green industry was a gig at a tree nursery. I tended plants from seed, cutting, transplant, and container with plenty of affection. I planted over 10,000 trees in my years at that job and I loved every one of them. When I later worked at garden centers and on landscape crews I carried that same affection forward from my early days in the industry. I found immeasurable excitement to sell people trees to plant for Earth Day.

Fast forward fifteen years and I’m shredding Christmas trees in a tree chipper.

Talk about a 180°.

Chippin’ Away

I won’t lie, feeding dozens of Christmas trees through a wood chipper is cathartic. Imagine you don’t like Christmas trees in the first place. Then, suddenly, you’re shoving their desiccated corpses into a machine that grinds them into a finely-chipped form? It’s hard not to enjoy it, or the sweet scent of ground conifer that drifts downwind from the chipper.

But then I remember most of these trees are about fifteen years old. That’s the average length of time it takes to grow a tree from sapling to living-room spectacle, and it’s also how long I’ve been in the industry.

Now this future mulch pile takes on sentimental attachment.

I could’ve grown these trees from their infancy, fostered their growth for more than ten years before I cut them down to fulfill their destiny as Christmas trees. And some of them reach that point of their existence; they’ve adorned your homes, brought cheer and happiness to your family. That’s great.

But the rest? Well, they get chipped to shit and have their remains dumped into a pile.

Way to Guilt a Holiday Tradition

For a lot of folks, a tree is just a tree. It’s a plant, plain and simple, who cares what happens to it?

Well, I care. I’ve watched these trees grow from inches-tall to ten-feet high and more. They’re living -isms, and that demands a level of respect. Unfortunately for the ones left behind, it’s simply a massacre. Their remains are thrown into a wood chipper and blasted off to some pile in the middle of a dump. Game over.

Chipping those trees this year was a bittersweet experience. On one hand, I hate Christmas. On the other, I love trees. What am I supposed to do? Is there a way to balance the guilt and the joy?

Earth Day

I know, it’s still winter. Why are you hearing about Earth Day?

Because you murdered a Christmas tree, used its corpse to decorate your home, and then tossed its shriveled and naked body to the curb for the trash collector. You owe it to that tree, to your children and descendants, to the whole goddamn planet to replace the life you took.

Even if it’s not for another three months, Earth Day is an important holiday. It celebrates one of the great commonalities we share with one another. In a few months you’re going to see tons of Facebook posts about hugging trees and planting seeds, that’s great. I hope you heed those calls of action. But chances are you need an emotional impetus to get started, to really take action.

Let’s make the Christmas Tree Massacre of 2018 your motivation to plant a tree on Earth Day this year. You already took one out of the population, what say we plant another to replace it?

There’s an old quote that says, ““Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Let’s take a step forward and be one of those men. Replace that tree you killed for Christmas with one you plant yourself this Earth Day.

We only have one go at this thing, let’s leave a good mark behind us.

Matt Suwak
About the Author

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in bird watching and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works during the day as a landscaper and gardener, and by night a freelance writer. He can throw a football ten miles from a stationary position and has grappled mountain lions and lived to tell about it. The lions cannot say the same.

His other writing can be found at www.heyplantguy.com

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