Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

December 19, 2010


Questioning the use of artificial Christmas trees


        About this time last year I shared in this column how much money we had saved by using an artificial Christmas tree for ten years. A few days later I received a thoughtful message from Ray Gilbert suggesting that I rethink the matter.

        Ray said that artificial trees do more harm than real trees. And artificial trees are usually made in China from plastic and other compounds that do not breakdown in a landfill. Instead of chastising me for using an artificial tree, Ray raised an interesting question. Would you, he asked, use plastic Easter lilies rather than real lilies in your church? I am sure he knew that my answer would be a resounding No.

        He was not finished. Ray went on to remind me, graciously I must admit, that real trees are similar to other farming crops; the growers replant each year to replace the ones cut and sold and that creates jobs in our country. That is significant because most artificial Christmas trees are made in China.

        By now I had noticed from his address that Ray operated a Christmas Tree Farm. I learned from his Website ( that Ray and his wife Joan started their tree farm in 1983 and sold their first trees, Virginia Pines, in 1988. Since then he has expanded the size of the farm and begun growing Leyland Cypress trees along with the Virginia Pines.

        Impressed with what Ray had taught me I did further research on my own to verify his observations. The more I read, the more convinced I was that Ray is right. Evidently artificial Christmas trees actually damage the environment and pose health risks to consumers and workers.

        Artificial trees are made with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC which is a plastic derived from petroleum. The raw material of these trees is non-renewable and polluting. And, get this, the production of PVC results in the emission of carcinogens, creating a rather unhealthy situation since they are cancer causing agents.

         One strong argument against artificial trees concerns the health risk to children. To make the artificial needles more malleable some manufacturers use lead and other additives which have been linked to kidney, liver and neurological damage in studies on animals. This led to the warning that artificial trees “may shed lead-laced dust on the branches, gifts and the floor beneath the tree.” That’s a rather scary thought!

        Convinced that Ray was right, last year I gave up on artificial trees and bought a real tree. It was so real it still had roots. We watered it liberally and after Christmas I planted it in the yard. It is alive and well.

        This Christmas we followed Ray’s advice and bought a Fraser Fir tree in Montgomery. On top of this stately eight-foot tree our grandsons deployed a lovely angel. Leaving 900 ornaments boxed up, my wife opted for simplicity. The tree is unusually beautiful with nothing more than a string of lights, the angel and a few streamers flowing down from the angel.

        Stationing an angel atop a Christmas tree is making a statement. The angel is in charge of the tree. Santa and his Elves are subservient to the angel. I have not examined it but I imagine the angel was made in China. But for me it is much more than a Christmas ornament, it is the angel Gabriel and each day I hear him saying to us what he once said to Mary, “The Lord is with you!”

        If we lived a bit closer to the Valley I would get in my old red truck and drive with some of my grandchildren over the Ray Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm. It would be fun, as Ray suggests, choosing and cutting our own tree, as we did when I was young. Ray gives you a choice; you can cut your own or he will cut one for you.

        By now, six days before Christmas, Ray and Joan are about done selling trees for this year. But I hope business has been good and that a lot homes will enjoy celebrating Christmas around one of Ray’s real trees. I am thankful for the good lesson Ray Gilbert taught me about Christmas trees. The environment will be a little safer because of what I learned.

        Merry Christmas Ray – and everyone! + + +