As we prepare to celebrate our second Christmas in Italy, having traversed much of the European continent between Decembers, we are ready to celebrate a nostalgic Tuscan Christmas. After looking for a real Christmas tree for weeks on end, we decided to do some research.
The Christmas tree is not the most important of decorations in Italy, although it is gaining popularity. As Asian imports are on the rise in Italy, over five million Italians have chosen artificial trees from China, over real trees, sparking a century-old debate.
Sears Roebuck began offering the first artificial trees in 1883 that retailed for anywhere between fifty cents and one dollar in the USA depending on how many limbs. Now there are many people on either side of the real versus artificial debate. Some say the artificial trees made of plastic and metal alloys are a source of pollution when the trees are being produced and during transportation and disposal. Others argue that the mass production and use of pesticides of real cut Christmas trees are harmful and fake trees if used for more than twenty years are better for the environment. There are thousands of convincing arguments for either side.
For our family, a Christmas in Tuscany meant a live tree, and we would not stop until we found one. What we learned is that we started our search too early. The live trees started popping up around Tuscany last weekend, just before the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception” which is the beginning of the season in Italy. If you are looking for a beautifully shaped, trimmed, deep green tree, however, we have not seen one in Italy. Even the trees in the piazzas in Siena, Cortona, and Forte dei Marmi have branches shooting from every direction, big spaces between branches, and a wild side that is endearing.
Tuscany is stunning and proud and rugged and refined. It is a place where food takes center stage and the land where that food is produced, is a feast for the eyes. In many homes in Italy, the Christmas trees are smaller than the nativity, if there is a tree at all. To honor the richness and beauty of a Tuscan Christmas in your neck of the woods, consider a living topiary with a single strand of lights. To show your Tuscan Christmas spirit, very little embellishment is required, unless it is in regards to food.
Many Americans traveling in Italy, have said to us that it seems less festive here. I think the truth is it is just less commercial and that makes the landscape look and feel distinctly different. The trees are small but the spirit is palatable and genuine and mirthful.
It does not matter what side of the fake versus real argument you fall on, or even who is right. What is important is to celebrate in a way that is meaningful, sustainable, and joyful for you. That is the best way to contribute to a “green” Christmas, Tuscan, or otherwise.