Despite what you may see in stores, the Christmas season is still upon us. For Catholics, and most other Christians, it lasts until the Baptism of the Lord. That falls on Jan. 9 this year in the United States.
Soon, however, we will take down our Christmas trees – either packing away the artificial ones or disposing of the cut evergreen ones.
So, for the once fresh balsam or spruce, is it the end of the road?
The psalm response for Dec. 31 this year comes from Ps 96: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice! … Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord.”
It turns out that there is plenty of life, even new life, left in that browning Christmas tree that once stood in a tree farm forest — 25 to 30 million of them cut this year, according to the Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org). That’s a lot of trees, and knowing the good you can do with those old Christmas trees in January can make for a great start to the new year.
Many local communities collect Christmas trees and put them to use. The city of Appleton collects trees and turns them into mulch which residents can have for free to use in their spring gardens. Also, if you live in Appleton and bring your old tree to the yard waste site by Jan. 23, you’ll get a coupon to come back for a free white spruce seedling in spring — new life for your yard.
But mulch or seedlings are only the beginning. Old Christmas trees can be set out to make habitat for birds and small animals during winter. If you add pine cones dipped in peanut butter or dried orange slices or berries, you’ll have a winter dance show courtesy of our feasting feathered friends. See the National Christmas Tree Association at realchristmastrees.org for other ideas. (Just be sure not to leave it too long in spring when insects can infest it.)
Many local snowmobile clubs also use old Christmas trees to mark safe paths over lakes in winter.
Come spring, dried out trees can be chopped up or broken apart to make compost. If you mix water in your compost bin or pile, you can then use the resulting brew to enhance the pH level of your soil and keep it from getting compacted, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. This might make for a greener lawn in summer.
There are plenty of other uses for old Christmas trees, from coasters made from trunk slices to putting tree ash (after a tree is burned) in your garden for added nutrients. Old branches can even be used in the garden now to even out the soil temperature.
One choice to avoid is burning the old tree in your fireplace or wood stove. Pine sap is very flammable and too big a fire risk.
Old trees can also be sunk in a private pond to create an environment for fish, as algae grows on it when temperatures heat up in spring. And some beach areas use old Christmas trees to reestablish beach dunes, as the state of New York did after Hurricane Sandy in 2013 and as North Carolina does annually along beaches, according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation (coastalreview.org). But don’t throw a tree into your local lake because it will end up as a boat hazard.
However you dispose of Old Tannenbaum, remember to do so by keeping an eye on the future. That will help everyone “Be glad and rejoice” in the new year.