The Christmas and New Year holidays are tied to ornate Christmas trees, colorful and varied decorations, glowing garlands and light bulbs, and beautifully wrapped gifts under the Christmas trees. Christmas trees with a star on top are always the main and most important symbol during the holidays. The New Year’s tree is most often spruce, pine with a beautiful and specific smell of needles or coniferous tree-fir from the Caucasus (lat. Abies nordmanniana).
The journey of the Christmas tree begins in the Georgian forests. Seeds are harvested from the tops of hundred-year-old trees. After that the seeds go to Denmark. Denmark is the undisputed market leader flooding Europe with pine trees. In Morvan, France, some producers are trying to compete with their knowledge. Other producers think that organic farming is the right solution. At the end of the journey the tree ends up on the city sidewalks where it gets a second chance.
Residents of Western Europe often choose Caucasian fir (or Nordic fir) for the Christmas and New Year tree at home. Caucasian fir is among the most popular trees. It is chosen for decoration due to a number of advantages (needles are relatively elastic and do not fall off and are not prickly). The disadvantage of this type of coniferous tree is that it does not have a strong smell of conifers. It can look fresh for a very long time after cutting the tree.
These trees have been planted in nurseries in many Western European countries for years. The natural habitat of fir is the mountainous region of the Caucasus (mostly in Georgia, Armenia and Turkey). Georgians are not exactly fans of this tree, although Georgia is mostly a natural habitat for this type of tree. In Georgia, fir is mostly grown because of the fruits that are collected and sold. In the first half of the 19th century, food from the Caucasus was brought to Europe. In the mountainous natural habitat of the Caucasus, firs grow at an altitude of 800 to 2,200 m. After rapid growth in the early years, the tree grows about 50 cm per year. It takes 20 to 60 years for a Christmas tree to reach full height. Caucasian dishes have a lifespan of up to 500 years. It tolerates low temperatures down to -20 ° C well.
More than half of the seeds for Christmas trees sold in many European countries (Denmark, France, Germany and others) come from
Georgia. Poor Georgians risk their lives by collecting cones of Caucasian dishes, especially popular in Western Europe. Cone collectors rely on 60-meter trees to eat usually without ropes and without any protective measures. Falls are not uncommon, and there are deaths every year.
Every September, men from many villages in the Caucasus Mountains go to the woods on the slopes of hills in northeastern Georgia to collect cones of Caucasian seed dishes. The tallest trees reach up to 60 meters. Cones grow only on the tops of the canopy. It is hard, arduous and dangerous work. The hands of the cone collector are strong and streaked with scars and blisters. Families and friends of Caucasian food cones collectors are always afraid for the fates and lives of their family members who are collectors. The season of collecting Caucasian fir cones lasts only two weeks. For many, it is the only source of income in Georgia – a poor Caucasian state.
Local pickers hand over the picked cones to the sellers every night. For two kilograms of cones, pickers get one lari, or 42 eurocents. When the season is good, pickers work 12 hours a day. Then they earn a total of a thousand euros, which is a much higher salary than the usual monthly salary in Georgia. Because of such earning opportunities, this job is very attractive. That is why hundreds of workers gather in the region every year at the time of sowing.
Seeds from cones end up in nurseries in Denmark and Germany. In Europe, the sale of Christmas trees earns two billion euros a year. In Germany alone, 29 million pieces were sold last year for a total of 700 million euros. Local pickers in Georgia do not know that. Just as they are not aware that most Christmas trees sold in Europe come from seeds from Georgia. It is used to grow Caucasian fir trees with soft, luxurious and resistant needles, some 2.40 meters high. For such a tree, a resident of Germany should set aside about 60 euros. For a kilogram of seeds, you need seven to ten kilograms of cones. For them, a picker in Georgia gets about two euros. Georgian resellers sell the seeds to foreign companies for 25 euros per kilogram. In the European market, that kilogram of seeds reaches a price higher than 100 euros – 50 times more than pickers in Georgia earn. Nurseries in Germany and Denmark grow up to 5,000 shoots per kilogram of seeds. Young shoots need 7 to 10 years to reach the desired height.
Although Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana) or Nordic fir is on the list of popularity of the most popular Christmas trees convincingly in the first place: Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana) this tree has a sad fate and journey. This type of tree is 9 out of 10 Christmas trees. Customers know the advantages: it hardly “loses” needles that are not prickly because they are relatively elastic. The disadvantage may be that it does not smell so much with the typical smell of pine, but also that it can survive cut for a relatively long time. Practical reasons far outweigh this shortcoming.
Buyers buy Christmas trees directly from nurseries or Christmas auctions of coniferous trees from the wild. In mixed forests, coniferous trees grow faster. On the ground around these trees, usually nothing can grow anymore. That is why foresters leave deciduous trees. They cut down coniferous trees which then come up for auction. Part of the trees are artificially planted in areas that want to return to nature, but when planting it is difficult to say whether the shoot will be “accepted”. That is why they are planted very densely and that is why the forest must be “thinned out”. In fact, until the 1980s, most of all Christmas trees did come “from the forest” (a by-product of the forestry industry). But in the past, that has changed radically: today, virtually all Christmas trees come from special farms. Trees are planted and cultivated only so that on the eve of Christmas, they would be cut down and come to the living room.
And that is a practice around which spears are still being broken. Because given the huge demand, so are huge areas planted, some have been forests before, but some have not. Yet in many European provinces such nurseries are treated as “forests”. This then brings benefits and tax relief to farmers – even though artificial fertilizers and pesticides are widely used in nurseries. It is even more absurd that this creates “forests” in the middle of fields of potatoes, corn or rape. And even when the seedlings are in a cleared forest, they are usually surrounded by wire: When an area in the forest is limited in this way, then it is not available for wild animals either. Then it is no longer a forest. And on top of that, the question arises: “Is it really necessary to plant Christmas tree seedlings in fertile fields, even if they can actually be used to produce food for humans or animals?” Asks the director of the Bonn Botanical Garden.
The demand for a favorite dish from the Caucasus is just huge: about 45 million trees are sold annually, which means that every second resident buys a tree once a year.
Christmas trees. On the other hand, the residents of Georgia who collect cones and Christmas tree seeds have absolutely no reason to enjoy the holiday celebration. Because in order to collect seeds, they have to rely on trees that can be about sixty meters high every autumn, usually without ropes and without any protective measures. Falls are not uncommon, and there are deaths every year. And earnings are pathetic: in Georgia, the average income is somewhere around 2,200 euros a year. They earn much less than average.
Entrepreneurs who trade in Christmas trees often decide to at least try to change something. In the West, products that come from abroad on the principle of “fair trade” are spreading anyway (fair trade where they try to avoid intermediaries and pay growers a more or less fair price for their efforts).
Since 2007, Christmas trees have been sold on a “fair trade” basis. For an individual customer, this is not a big difference: tree traders have to pay one sticker declaring the tree a “fair” trade for just one euro and 25 cents. Of that, 67.5 cents goes to a special foundation. It then pays for social projects in the country of origin (equipment for climbing trees, insurance payments in case of accidents of those who collect cones). All this with a small amount that almost any of us can afford, but it means a lot to the residents of these areas – say entrepreneurs. However, only a tiny part of Christmas trees in this country was bought in a “fair” way: of over 40 million in 2009 sold only 80 thousand such Christmas trees. But more and more citizens know and support this initiative. We hope that such trees will one day appear in construction material malls and other places where Christmas decorations are sold “en masse”. So the people of Western Europe can really spend the Christmas holidays with a clear conscience.