No-buy Christmas rule #1: Break the no-buy rule and buy a tree.

It’s a lame excuse, but it just wouldn’t feel quite like Christmas without the tree. Our family’s tradition is to go cut our tree down the weekend after Thanksgiving, and we did it again this year, despite our no-buy policy for the year. For the past several years, we’ve made our tree more responsible, and we felt comfortable that our tree-purchasing parameters were well within the spirit of no-buy, even if we did have to fork out the cash for it.

Parameter #1: We have to cut the tree down ourselves.

Cutting the tree down ourselves means that we have to actually visit the farm on which it’s grown. By cutting down our own tree, we support a local business and a local group of farmers. The folks who grow our tree are on-site, directing tree-seekers to the bucket of saws they can borrow and doling out candy canes and hot chocolate. They point out tucked-away patches of perfect trees, and if you’re interested, they’ll tell you all about the miracle greenhouse that recycles and purifies the gray water that keeps the trees hydrated year-round. Cutting the tree also pulls us away from the television (more toy commercials than you could possibly imagine!) and gives us a good excuse to spend an electronic-free afternoon with the family. (Okay, so clearly, it was not completely electronic-free, as I obviously had a smartphone capable of snapping photos.)

Parameter #2: The farm from which we cut our tree needs to be environmentally sustainable.

Though it’s now a bit of a hike for us (we combined our tree trek with a visit with family to make sure we’re using gasoline wisely), we get our tree from a chemical-free farm just outside of Gettysburg. The farm is run by a co-housing community that aims for environmental and community sustainability. By choosing the farm carefully, we know we’re getting a tree that was grown in a sustainable way. We don’t have to worry about nasty chemicals in our home and around our kids and pets, we know that for every tree we cut down the farm plants a dozen new ones, and we know that our dollars go back into the farm and the community.

Parameter #3: We have to use the tree for more than just a month-long decoration.

Once the season is over, we chop our tree up and store it to use in outdoor fire pits during warm summer nights spent with friends and family. In the past, we’ve used it to roast marshmallows in our own backyard. This year, given that we’re now apartment-dwellers, we’ll be using it for the fire pit at my parents’ house.

What are your tree traditions? Do they add to your holiday feelings of stress, chaos, and insatiable consumption, or do feel pretty good about your tree’s role in your Christmas crazy?

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