Taking Down the Christmas TreeChristmas was a big event when I was a little kid — I’d get everyone up early, unwrap my presents at the speed of light and ignore any directions until my Barbie car broke down. The only thing more certain than my overzealous playing being a recipe for toy returns the next day was that the tree would be dumped in the back alley early the next morning, long before we got to any store. The morning after Christmas, the annual “end of holiday” alarm would wake me from my slumber; loud thuds hit the pavement by my window at steady intervals at 6 a.m. Every year I knew it was the tree, but per the tradition, I always walked outside, half-asleep, asking my dad what he was doing with an axe and the stub of a tree that was left. “It’s December 26th,” my dad usually said, spelling out that December 25th had indeed passed the day before, so it was out with the old and in with the new year. We were not the people who kept the tree up until March. Most of our neighborhood wasn’t either. But, in stark contrast to our diligent dicing of the tree right after the holiday, our next-door neighbors kept their fake tree — and their icicle lights — up year-round. Since extremes make me wonder about the typical behavior of most people when it comes to Christmas trees, I sought out to find the most popular public answer to my burning question: When is the appropriate time to take down a tree? A couple dozen forums later, I found “norms” ranging in date from January 1 to mid-March on the Chicago Talk forum of Yelp. It made for interesting reading, so I hit the search button to settle another debate: Is it more environmentally friendly to buy a fake tree or properly use a real tree? The answer to that one is obvious, according to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli’s article “Choosing a Christmas Tree Can Be an Ethical Quagmire.” Real or fake, you’re still a green hypocrite to some degree, Garofoli says as lightly as possible. “The choice between real and not real is especially painful for some environmentalists,” Garofoli sympathizes. “Either they desecrate the Earth and chop down a tree or buy a fake one that’s full of landfill-clogging polyvinyl chloride, which is kryptonite to greens.” The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) took to surveys to find out what people thought was better for the environment and found that 64.5% said a real tree was the right idea. The NCTA was not shy in stating its preference for the real deal. “Confused? You have 2 choices: First, you can use a renewable, recyclable natural product grown on farms throughout North America; or, you can use a non-renewable, non-biodegradable, plastic and metal product,” the NCTA site says. “You pick. We think we know the better answer.” The NCTA even invites readers to join in on the debate on its website. Whatever you choose, composting and recycling make both choices a better idea for the environment (and the likelihood that you’ll clean up before March). Composing a real tree is as simple as separating the needle-rich stems from the trunk and bigger branches. Put the former in the pile to add nitrogen and carbon that will help your pile flourish. To find a local place to recycle everything from Christmas trees to holiday lights by ZIP code, see 1-800-RECYCLING’s holiday recycling location search. You can also check with your local municipality to find city-sponsored tree drop-offs.