Christmas Tree Alternatives

Looking for a greener way to enjoy a traditional Christmas tree? Read these five ideas that are kinder on the environment without sacrificing memories and tradition. In fact, with these ideas, you might start a new tradition with your family.


Danielle’s tree decorated for the holidays in Modesto, California. Photo by Kimber Genzoli, Modesto Bee.

1. Adopt a Neighborhood Tree

Create a neighborhood tradition to decorate a tree with your neighbors. Each family can bring an ornament to hang on the tree. Organize a fun neighborhood get-together with hot chocolate and music. Hang LED lights and ornaments, and feel good getting to know your neighbors.

Read this wonderful story of an almond tree in Modesto, California decorated every holiday by community members. Danielle’s Tree has become a beacon of community love and support.


2. Decorate a Holiday Ladder or Bookcase 

Let’s face it: Christmas trees are part of family tradition. Decorating the tree brings loved ones together and creates a place to open presents. To keep this tradition alive in a more sustainable way, consider decorating a ladder or bookcase with lights and ornaments. Beautiful examples can be found on Pinterest.


3. Ceramic Tree

Growing up, my father received a ceramic Christmas tree as a gift. It was handmade by my grandmother’s neighbor. It became our yearly tradition to unveil the ceramic tree after Thanksgiving. That was over 20 years ago, and we still cherish our ceramic tree to this day. There are many options for ceramic trees, like this one or this one.


4. Miniature Living Tree

Purchase a small tree from your local garden store or even Trader Joe’s. Ideally, purchase a native tree that is grown locally. When you get it home, place it in a sheltered area outside (a porch will do just fine) to help it acclimate before moving it inside.

After the holidays are over, move your potted tree outside. Make it a family tradition to care for the tree year-round. It will be in beautiful shape for next year’s holiday. To keep it healthy and small for many years, learn the art of bonsai.


5. Adopt a Living Tree: Look for a local program to adopt a tree. In San Francisco, Friends of the Urban Forest will deliver 3′-6′ tall non-traditional holiday trees (primrosecork oaksmall-leaf tristania, and other trees) that are good for San Francisco’s climate. After the holidays, the trees are planted in the city. In San Jose, California, companies like Rent A Living Christmas Tree will care for your live tree year-round and deliver it to your home just in time for the holidays.


Artificial Trees vs. Live Trees: Which is Better?

Artificial Christmas trees are made of non-renewable PVC plastic. Lead and other hazardous chemicals are used to make the tree’s needles, which can be transferred to humans by touching the tree or vacuuming up the needles. Artificial trees can’t be recycled, which means they’re off to the landfill when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan.

You guessed it: artificial trees are worse for the environment than live trees. If your heart is set on having a live tree, here are a few eco-friendly tips: 1) buy an organic Christmas tree, 2) avoid spray-painted trees, 3) put your used tree in the green bin or take advantage of city curbside pick-up programs.

Did you try one of these Christmas Tree alternatives? Let us know in the comments section below.

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