Christmas Tree Ethics
What do we owe to the tree in our living room?
I would submit that we are able to cut Christmas trees each year because we assume that the tree has no feelings. Cut down a tree and no intelligence dies.
Listen, however, to experienced forester Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, whose years as a scientist have given him the data to conclude that trees communicate with one another by scent, care for one another through exchange of nutrients in their common root systems, and create communities that work together to keep a healthy equilibrium in a forest so that all can flourish.
Trees will even direct extra nutrients to those who are ill or even dying. Even a tree stump may continue to live because of the communal sharing of resources; not only that, but a particular, even (dare we say) intentional, direction of life giving nutrients.
On the one hand, Christmas trees who are harvested from living forests lose this rich communal life. On the other, isolated individuals like those grown on Christmas tree farms don’t get to partake of this rich communal life at all.
As a vegetarian, I notice the similarity between the meat, poultry, and fishing industries, and the tree-farm industry. Like the pain of the animals who are raised on factory farms, the pain that the trees experience both in the forest and on the tree farm are hidden from consumers.
So what are the ethics of our consumer choices when any living being is sacrificed for our sustenance or joy — up to and including our Christmas tree?
Let’s honor life of the Christmas tree in our living rooms. This was a living being who knew whom its parents were and who was either deprived of a communal life or ripped from it. Let’s honor the life that our family tree had and honor the sacrifices it made on the way to our living rooms.
Let’s be sure that our Christmas tree’s example point us to the wider group of beings who make and have made many sacrifices to make our lives good and true and replete — greatest of all, Jesus Christ, the gift of whose birth is the true center of Christmas.