A Christmas tree journeys from a Swedish forest, with a brief decorated stop in the living room, to one of many energy-generating furnaces. In Sweden, people are warmed up by their trees before, during and after Christmas.
Many Swedes are tempted into the forest in their search for a perfect Christmas tree. Photo: Ann Lindberg
Getting hold of a Christmas tree in a country with as many forests as Sweden should be as easy as a stroll in the woods. Not so, according to Anders Ånerklint of Skogstjänst, a Linköping-based forest management company.
“Allemansrätten [the right to roam in nature, pick unprotected wild flowers and berries] does not allow you to damage living trees,” Ånerklint says. “Although Sweden is a large and seemingly wild country, most land is privately owned and therefore taking a tree is technically theft.”
Lumberjack for the day
Because several sought-after trees, such as the silver fir, grow almost exclusively on commercial plantations, cutting one down is definitely stealing. If you own the land or have the landowner's permission to become an amateur lumberjack, a popular substitute for the fir is the Norway spruce, which has suitable needles for hanging baubles and other decorations.
Finding the perfect tree might seem an easy task with so much forest around. Plodding through knee-deep snow, however, may be one obstacle on your way. Photo: Leif Öster/Sydskog
Many over-enthusiastic lumberjacks have unrealistic ideas about size. Unfortunately, they only realize this as they are struggling to strap their tree to the roof of their car, see through the windshield or worst of all squeeze it into the living room without obscuring the television, scraping the wallpaper or covering grandma in needles. On the other hand, get a tree that’s too small and risk having your family take it as perfect evidence of your holiday failings. Generally, Swedish families get together and decorate their tree on the evening before Christmas Eve.
In reality, Swedes tend to buy their Christmas trees from the dealers that spring up around the beginning of December. Skogen (The Forest) magazine writes that 3 million trees are sold each year for Sweden’s 4.3 million households, the majority of which are grown in Sweden or Denmark.
A natural tree is the most environmentally friendly option as far as Christmas trees go. The average Christmas tree is between eight and ten years old, from a managed plantation, and will be replaced with a new sapling which in turn produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide.
Swedes never miss an opportunity to dance round a tree, and on tjugondag Knut (twenty days after Christmas Eve), the traditional Julgransplundring (Christmas tree plundering) is as much about staying warm as marking the end of the holiday with a final song and dance before being reminded of the cold, dark midwinter.
Swedish Christmas celebrations have long included a decorated tree, today one of the most obvious symbols of a traditional Christmas. Photo: Nordiska museet / Ann Lindberg
With the ornaments stored away in boxes and the lights gone from the corner of the room, the Christmas tree’s journey is not quite over. Shortly after tjugondag Knut, local councils arrange for a city-wide curbside collection of the trees.
In Linköping, the tree is taken to Tekniska Verken, one of several waste management companies across Sweden, where it is chipped, mixed with other household waste and fed into a giant furnace. The energy generated is used to heat 90 percent of Linköping’s water and central heating systems and to drive steam turbines which produce electricity.
Magnus Hammar, a waste engineer at the facility, loves trash. He argues that burning the tree is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of it. Hammar says: “By burning your tree, its energy content is used. The same amount of CO2 would be released if you let the tree ferment naturally by composting, but then the energy would be lost.”
Linköping's Tekniska verken is just one of many Swedish waste management facilities that give the Christmas tree an honorable ending, and a last gift of warmth to others. Photo: Åke E:son Lindman
Linköping alone, with a population of about 100,000, collects over 12,000 trees which generate 28,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 115,200 kWh of heat.
The combined heat and power from your tree is enjoyed once again, reaching households within ten hours of being burnt. The average tree weighs five kilograms and produces twelve kWh, meaning that one tree will boil a kettle for three hours or light a 60 watt bulb for eight days as well as heat the water in your radiators.
They say that wood warms you three times: when you haul it in, when you chop it up and when you burn it. The same can be said of the Swedish Christmas tree: when you haul it onto the roof of your car, when you dance around it, and when the council recycles it into central heating that helps the Swedes stay warm long after the scent of pine has left the building.
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Ben Kersley is a writer and performer from the UK. His company, Speak Up!, uses theatre to help Swedish companies with English presentations and communication. Ben is also the editor of The Turnip – A magazine for non Swedes.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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