Little did I know when we ventured south to Poole on Thursday that we were entering the nation's hotbed of Christmas tree controversies. NAH's aunt soon filled us in on all the details: there were complaints that last year's real Christmas tree looked rather ugly. It was spoiled by the boards surrounding it and the guy ropes needed to secure it to prevent it falling on passers by. So, the shopping centre's management decided to have a fake tree this year, complete with hidden speakers to play carols to shoppers at a cost of £14,000. Naturally, this also led to howls of protest with the replacement tree being described as an astroturf witch's hat.
This local news story had all the key ingredients needed to make it go national: members of the public raging against decisions made on their behalf by faceless local management; the health and safety angle; rather a lot of money being spent, possibly at public expense [however, the press says the local shopping centre management has stood the costs]; lots of choice quotes from incensed passers-by and local shopkeepers; the use of social media to start a one-sided protest campaign [5,000 followers on Facebook]; plus lots of opportunity to have punning headlines like Why get needled over Poole's Christmas Tree? It made most of the national newspapers as well as the national TV and radio news. This link gives you a flavour of what's been said as well as showing the artificial tree by day and night. I also rather like the local paper's response to all the national publicity which tries to get it back into proportion.
So the shopping centre management replaced the witch's hat last week with a real tree at a further cost of around £4,000: £400-500 for the tree, plus £3,500 erection and decorating costs. The replaced tree has gone for repair because it was damaged by vandals. Naturally, I had to go and have a look for myself and as you can see the new tree is being largely ignored now that it's gone back to looking just like last year's.
It got me thinking though. I can understand why last year's tree wasn't liked: most of the outdoor real Christmas trees I've seen thus far are awash with guy ropes and boarding for health and safety reasons which rather detract from the tree itself, especially during the day. It seems Poole can't win really. Erect a real tree and there's complaints; install an artificial one and there's a vigorous campaign to get it replaced. I suspect what everyone really wants is the kind of unfettered real tree + decorations seen everywhere else around town in the windows of shops and offices.
I've come up with a third way: why not plant a real tree instead? The natural vegetation surrounding Poole is heathland, so a large conifer or silver birch would bring a sense of that back into the heart of the town. I believe it would be far cheaper to plant, maintain and decorate each Christmas than the costs quoted for a six week temporary display and if planted correctly it wouldn't need securing like the current tree does. It would give year-round pleasure and help to clean the air a little. Come to think about it, why don't we do that in all of our towns and cities and call them our celebration trees?