Family outings with an axe and saw: cutting Christmas trees from the Palatinate Forest is becoming increasingly popular

“Should we take this one?” “No, it’s not dense enough!” Words exchanged briefly on the Saturday before the third Sunday in Advent. A conversation overheard early in the morning in the forest near Höningen in the district of Bad Dürkheim. The couple reaches for their axe and saw and determinedly continues on its way. A short way further on, the woman suggests: “I think this one’s better”. He agrees: “It looks like a good one.” A few minutes later the two are jointly carrying “their” spruce along the forest track towards Langenthal car park where forester Markus Leuteneker is waiting at the checkout. Once they have paid, the transport net is pulled over the freshly cut tree and it is lifted onto the roof rack of the car. Bring on the festivities! The homely part starts right here in the Palatinate Forest with spicy venison sausages and steaming mulled wine beside the blazing open fire.

 

Even the cutting of Christmas trees has now become a tradition in the Palatinate Forest. More and more people are beginning to love this little Advent adventure – for many it’s an occasion for a unique family outing. There’s always lively business at the Langenthal car park even before it has officially opened at 10 o’clock, with people arriving from all directions with racks or trailers. They proceed to unload axes and saws, some even motor-driven. Many come as a group, while others arrive on their own or as a couple. And, of course, there are lots of families who choose their Christmas tree together. “The children want to see where their tree comes from,” explains a grandpa from Ludwigshafen who has arrived with his two grandchildren and their father. The latter adds: “The tree's also fresher from here and so lasts longer.” The forestry offices have a number of open days during Advent and you can even buy ready-cut and bought-in trees.

“The popular Nordmann fir does not grow in the Palatinate Forest,” states Joachim Weirich from the Bad Dürkheim Forestry Office, giving one of the reasons for this. The trees also need time to grow: they need around ten years to grow to around two metres. The rule of thumb for estimating the age of a tree: a crown with branches grows each year. The fencing of plantations is one of the most important measures for ensuring that the Christmas trees grow tall enough. That’s the only way of making sure wild pigs do not eat the seedlings, which have a lot of starch in their roots. Later the fences also prevent deer from nibbling off the fresh greenery of the buds, which they love.

 

 

Selling the Christmas trees is not a business, explains Joachim Weirich. “However, these days gives us an opportunity to convey our message because we have an opportunity to talk directly to people,” he explains, calling this a unique form of public relations work. We're also fulfilling people’s needs. After all, the greenery standing in the corner of a festive home, a tradition dating back many decades, was “a comforter, giving people the confidence that vegetation would start growing again after the winter.” It is important to Joachim Weirich that the pine tree is also suitable as a Christmas tree. It is the most common species of tree that grows in the Palatinate Forest, where otherwise spruce and fir trees predominantly grow. How do you distinguish between them? “Spruce trees will stab you, fir trees won’t,” explains Joachim Weirich.

Over 70 percent of all Christmas trees – in Germany some 30 million are sold every year, just under two million of which in Rhineland-Palatinate – continue to be Nordmann fir, the majority of which come from cultivated plantations. Originally these trees did not grow in our latitudes, which is why it's always better to opt for a regional species of tree, like a spruce, pine or fir. After all, short transport routes have a positive impact on the environmental footprint of Christmas trees as well. There have even been “eco-Christmas trees” sold in Rhineland-Palatinate since 2016 – environmentally-friendly trees certified with a “Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)” seal. To obtain this seal, trees need to have been cultivated in a socially responsible and environmentally-friendly manner without the use of mineral fertilisers and pesticides. Gradually increasing numbers of these Christmas trees are starting to offer an alternative to trees from massive tree plantations.

Today, blue spruce and white fir from the Palatinate Forest near Höningen represent an alternative. Even the bought-in Christmas trees, on sale here, originate in Rhineland-Palatinate. Forestry entrepreneur Alois Hörl collects them from the Hunsrück region. By the end of the day, some 200 trees have been sold – around 100 felled and purchased in person. “Everyone’s really envious of our tree,” comments a little boy, beaming, while refusing to let “his” tree out of sight at the packing station. There’s now a short queue at the checkout. Someone makes a light-hearted comment: “It’s just like queuing at the Aldi checkout,” although the atmosphere in the Palatinate Forest near Höningen is very different. Visitors get into conversation with each other around the warming blazing camp-fire. The conversations revolve around decorating Christmas trees, recipe ideas for the festive period or relaxing winter hikes in the Palatinate Forest. And the venison sausages and mulled wine slip down particularly well after a job well done.