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No Christmas tree panic for creative designers this year

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Susan DeCouto decorating her Christmas tree (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Susan DeCouto’s alternative Christmas tree (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Starla Williams decorating her alternative Christmas tree (Photograph supplied)
Jonathan Starling with the lemon tree he plans to use as a Christmas tree (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Tara Sapien’s driftwood Christmas tree (Photograph supplied)

Starla Williams was oblivious to this year’s Christmas tree panic.

She had always thought it strange that people bothered bringing them in and so, when she found her perfect alternative in an issue of Coastal Living magazine two years ago, she ordered her husband Chris to make it.

“We live on an island,” Mrs Williams said. “I always thought it was odd to have a fir tree sitting in your living room when you live in Bermuda.”

Walter Roban, the minister of home affairs, warned earlier this month that the number of Christmas trees might be limited by “the global resurgence of Covid-19 infections, economic challenges and the risk of importing infested trees” as the usual overseas pre-inspection could not be done this year.

A labour dispute with dock-workers fuelled the already short supply.

Suppliers were then inundated as hundreds of people who had not pre-ordered, showed up looking for trees – containers ultimately sold out in a matter of hours.

“I didn’t even think about the rat race for Christmas trees,” Mr Williams said. “We had our tree. That was all I thought about.”

It took him four nights to create their tree; wooden slats are slotted into grooves on a stick-like structure that stands about 6ft.

It takes about ten minutes to assemble and is easily taken apart and stored.

The couple invested the money they were saving from buying a tree into higher-end ornaments.

“I have a star, a few leaded glass stars made by Carla Marquardt,” Mrs Williams said, adding that she loved the local artist’s “beautiful cedar fish”.

“I have a mermaid. I have some great fish. I like crystal and things that really catch the light. The bulbs on the tree are those fish pot looking globes.”

People always have a strong reaction to it.

“They either love it or really don’t like it,” Mrs Williams said, adding that what many miss is the Christmas tree scent.

For the past seven years Tara Sapien has enjoyed a tree she made herself out of driftwood.

“I was broke and couldn’t afford a Christmas tree,” she said.

Out of a pile of recovered wood she built a 12ft Christmas tree which can be seen at her St George’s store, La Garza Boutique and Design Studio.

“It stays up all year round,” she said. “Whenever I look at it I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

At Christmas she decorates it with pink sand ornaments she makes and sells.

“I have a Bermuda Fitted Dinghy, a starfish, a shell, a seahorse and a turtle, all in pink sand,” she said. “That is what my tree is mostly decorated with.”

Ms Sapien is horrified by the waste that using real trees generates.

“We ship them here and then, God forbid there is a bug on any tree and the whole shipment gets burnt,” she said. “I think it is completely absurd that Christmas trees are so standard on an island in the middle of the ocean. Why is this our tradition?”

In the years since making her tree, she has made and sold eight others.

“I am done for the season, but will make them again next Christmas,” she said.

Jonathan Starling also thinks real Christmas trees are wasteful. He stopped buying them about 15 years ago, because of the large carbon footprint that comes with cutting them down and transporting them here.

He has used tiny potted cedar trees as replacements in the past; this year he has a lemon tree instead.

“I bring it in on Christmas Eve,” he said. “I decorate it with some fairy lights. Then I put it back outside on Christmas Day.

“The tree I have this year is quite small.”

Susan DeCouto is proud of her upcycled Christmas trees. Her friends were throwing two away last year, she took them and left them in her backyard to dry.

“At first the tree turns brown,” she said. “After about six months most of the needles come off.”

This month she brushed away any remaining needles and bark, and spray painted the skeleton trees chrome.

They now form part of the extensive Christmas decorations in her front yard.

She then went through the process a third time to create a Christmas tree for her living room.

“I had to spray paint that one white because I couldn’t get any more chrome spray paint,” she said.

The unexpected benefit of having a naked, white tree in her living room is that the ornaments are not hidden by fir needles.

“My daughter came in and said, ‘Did you buy new ornaments?”

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Published December 22, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 21, 2020 at 7:29 pm)

No Christmas tree panic for creative designers this year

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