Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

Back in 2007, I wrote about the little tree Daniel and I, with the help of former housemate Bill, made for our first Christmas together, back in 1996.  Made mostly of repurposed materials, this is a great alternative to cutting down a real tree or using a factory-made artificial tree.  It’s still going strong!  I’m finally responding to all the requests for photos of it.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the construction, but I’m reprinting the verbal description, and I bet you can figure it out–it was easy to make.

Christmas tree on the game cabinet

We just set it up for our 19th Christmas together.  Every year, we simply bring it up from the basement, wipe off dust with a damp cloth, and decorate!  Here’s how we made it:

  • We made a cardboard pyramid by cutting a large box into 4 tall triangles and connecting them with gaffer’s tape.  Then we cut a square 2″ smaller than the base of the pyramid, pushed it up into the base, and taped it in place.
  • We took a bunch of the bright green plastic bags that the newspaper comes in, cut them lengthwise to make long strips, folded each strip in half, and cut a zigzag along the fold down to about 1″ from the outer edge, resulting in two pieces of skinny triangles hanging from a strip.
  • We glued the strips to the pyramid, starting around the bottom edge with the triangles hanging off, then another strip above that one with its triangles hanging down over the strip below, all the way up to the top. Okay, it took 3 jars of rubber cement, which produced harmful fumes and will not biodegrade–but it’s held up all these years, without repairs!
  • We filled a large steel can (from sweet potatoes) with gravel, hot-glued it to the square in the bottom of the pyramid, and covered it with a crinkled brown grocery bag to make the trunk.  This part, as you can see, did not work out: We re-attached the trunk at least once every year for a while, then made a trunk from a small cardboard box and tried to crinkle the grocery bag such that we could pretend the box was round, and now have a trunkless tree that just sits on top of our game cabinet in the living room.
  • We attach the decorations with green thumbtacks hidden under the “needles”.

The decorations are attached with green thumbtacks concealed under the "needles".

The rubber cement and thumbtacks were the only supplies needed–all the rest was reused stuff!  Therefore, it cost less than $10 to make.  All that rubber cement (we recall using about two and a half jars!) had some environmental impact from its initial manufacture and fumes, but that’s minimal now that it’s lasted for so many years.  I think we’ve done only two repairs, reattaching a few inches of plastic each time.

Our little tree is kind of cartoony-looking, but we like it.  Its resemblance to a Looney Pyramid has been noted by many of our friends and family who are, like us, fans of those versatile toys–but really, the proportions of our tree were determined by the size of the box we happened to have.

Did you notice, reflected in the mirror in the first photo, that we also have another small Christmas tree on the floor by the stairs?  That is a pre-lighted artificial tree that our former neighbors couldn’t take with them when they moved back to China.  They had put it out for garbage collection, but we grabbed it!  At first glance I thought its yellowish-green lights and sparkly tinsel “needles” were unbearably gaudy, but it turns out that they look really nice together.  Daniel built a little stand for that tree out of scrap lumber, and now we have a second festive tree at no cost to us or the environment.

Our homemade tree, though, is even easier to set up than the pre-lighted one and far easier than a typical artificial tree plus strings of lights.  Our homemade tree also is very lightweight–our son has been able to bring it up the stairs himself since he was about 4 years old.  (The downside is that we had to discourage him from bringing it up at random times of year and subjecting us to incessant Christmas skits….)

Read here about the environmental impact of a typical manufactured fake tree vs. a real tree, and consider making your own Christmas tree.  It worked for me!

Please share other alternative Christmas tree ideas in the comments, and feel free to include a link if you have a post about your tree.  Check out my other ways to reduce holiday garbage.

P.S. If you are wishing you could do this project, but you have no source of green plastic bags, contact me.  We still subscribe to the Sunday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and it still comes in green bags, and we are only recycling them or giving them to dog-walkers…so we’d be happy to mail someone our current stash!

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6 thoughts on “Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

  1. Hi, Becca! You’re the winner of the prayer mandala book I’m giving away on my blog, so if you shoot me an email (navigatingwithgps at gmail dot com) with your address, I’ll get it in the mail to you next week! Congrats, and thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. Great idea! I hate fake trees but also would prefer not to chop down a real one. I could make a papier mache version of this—a cardboard pyramid covered with strips of newspaper and then painted. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. For folks who live where red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is an invasive scourge, consider getting permission to cut a genuine old-fashioned “prairie Christmas tree.” Most ranchers/farmers are delighted to get rid of one, and their only fee might be to ask you to please also cut down several more! Just two precautions: 1) Cut a male (nice cedar scent) rather than a female (smells like tomcat– identifiable by her bluish “berries”). 2)Use a tree stand that can hold LOTS of water, and refill it every day: red cedars are very thirsty, and if allowed to dry out can be very flammable.

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