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Mulch Fest

The first sign was the tinsel strewn along the path as I ran down to Kits Beach yesterday. Then the intoxicating scent of evergreen in the air and the distant drone of machinery. Christmas Tree Chipping weekend, of course. Lots of events on over the next couple of weekends in the lower mainland and I’m sure other parts of the world too. In some cities, you can also put the tree out with your yard trimmings. Check your town website for more info on tree recycling. In honour of the mulching season, I dug this out from the Diary.

The Christmas Tree Shredding Ceremony

I’m serious about recycling, especially the composting variety. As City Farmer’s Compost Hotline Operator, I have to be. Still, I always try to find the lighter side of garbage. But is there a shred of humor in Christmas tree recycling? Apparently the Japanese think so. Recently, a caller told me about a taped episode of Japanese “reality television” that he’d seen at a karaoke party. This popular game show travels the world filming staged and real events. The contestants must then determine which events are true to life. That’s how our city of Vancouver Christmas Tree Recycling program became famous in Japan.

As I heard it, the segment opens at the Vancouver landfill in Delta where we are about to witness a bizarre Christmas ritual. Even in Japan, West Coasters are known to be environmentally sensitive, so naturally we take our tree “burials” very seriously. Performing the sacred rites were: Garbage Head, Paul Henderson; Angel Singh from the Parks Board; and the Reverend Rudolph, who had a very shiny nose. The three, dressed in furtrimmed hard hats and flowing fleece robes, clustered around the tree chipper which was bedecked with flashing icicle minilights. While Paul picked a few strands of tinsel off the tree, Angel Singh wrestled with the stand that was stuck to its trunk. Finally, they fed the tree lovingly into the mouth of the shredder and hit the switch. In a flurry of chips and artificial snow, the Reverend began to shout solemnly.

“We are gathered around this Christmas tree, so evergreen have its branches been, to honor this king of the woodland scene. Once the pride of the mountain side, then cut down to grace our Christmas tide.” He lit some incense and waved it over the half shredded tree. “And now as we shred you in your winter prime, may you bring new life in verdant spring time.”

Rudy wiped his runny, shiny nose. “Please join me in singing, Oh Christmas Tree.”

Paul and Angel Singh sang along. Then they each lit a candle and planted it in the little pile of wood chips that was the Christmas tree. The ceremony ended in a moment of silence.

Okay, so if you were a contestant, you’d think the landfill ritual was a hoax, right? That’s what I thought, too, until I started digging a little deeper. I called a couple of members of the Lions Club (the charity that runs the city’s neighborhood chipping events) to check the rumor out. Both members danced around my question. I talked to Brian Johnston first.

“Have you heard about this bizarre Christmas tree shredding ceremony they’ve been performing at the Vancouver landfill?” I asked.

“Oh, that rumor has been circulating since we started the program in the early 1990s. I can’t say if it’s true.”

“You can’t or you won’t?” I pressed.

“Well, people do seem to believe in this annual recycling rite. Some of them go to a lot of trouble to get their trees to us at the local chipping events,” he said.

According to Brian, some bungy-cord it to their bikes; others harness the trees to their dogs and drag it in husky-style. Last year someone stuffed their tree into a garbage can on wheels and roller-bladed behind it.

“So do you believe there’s a blessing ceremony?” I asked.

“Well, if you watch the kids’ faces when their trees are being chipped and see them wave good-bye with their little mittened hands…” Brian’s voice broke with emotion. “I guess for them it is a little like having their trees blessed before we return them to the earth.”

When I asked Terry McKenzie, another Lions’ Club member, the same question, she too was evasive.

“Well, we don’t do anything too weird at the chipping events,” she said. “We put up our own little Christmas tree and hang all the forgotten decorations on it.”

“Have you ever had any unusual things left on the trees?” I asked.

“Oh sure, haven’t you ever received a gift you’d like to shred? We get the odd mouth-retainer, too, but my personal favorite was the pair of French kissing hens.”

Okay, not much help there. I decided to go straight to the source. I called up Paul Henderson at the Vancouver landfill. When I asked him about the ceremony, he said, “Look, all I’ll say is this. People want to know that their trees’ lives haven’t been sacrificed in vain, that they’ve served a purpose greater than a light rack. Over the years, we’ve recycled hundreds of thousands of Christmas trees and their remains are composted in our yard- waste composting facility here at the landfill. That product is then spread around Vancouver parks and sold to landscapers and residents as a rich organic fertilizer. If that isn’t a higher purpose, I don’t know what is.”

“Do you have a copy of the tape?” I asked, anxious for proof that this ceremony existed.

“I did have a tape,” he said. “But I lent it to a friend of mine to take to a karaoke party.”

“And?” I said.

“The VCR ate it. Yup, not a shred of evidence left.”

So you decide: reality or fiction? Personally, I choose to believe in the Christmas Tree Shredding Ceremony. It reminds me of the time that, with hands on hips, I asked my mother, “Is there or is there not a Santa Claus?”

And she replied, “For those who believe, there is.”

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