If you reuse the same cardboard box for your artificial holiday tree each year, you are not alone

If you reuse the same cardboard box for your artificial holiday tree each year, you are not alone
Fernando Alfonso/CNN

One holiday tradition an untold number of people engage in each year around Christmas involves tattered cardboard boxes.

The homes to artificial Christmas trees are reappearing as holiday preparations continue. Photos of these boxes proliferate on Reddit each holiday season, garnering support from people impressed by the dedication to preserving cardboard and derision over not spending money on a new container for their tree.

One reluctant owner is Iris Johns of Atlanta, who inherited her mother’s tree in, according to the number of tape rings around the box, December 2017.

“It’s funny because I literally was shopping for a tarp-like, reusable container last year because the box was driving me bonkers. But I didn’t pull the trigger,” Johns told CNN. “We may be moving this beauty to a new container this year, if I end up taking the plunge in an effort to avoid the eyesore next year.”

The sight of these cardboard boxes each year on social media can be considered a meme, said Amanda Brennan, senior director of trends at XX Artists and an internet librarian who studies meme culture and fandoms. Seeing people share photos of their tree boxes could encourage people to look at their family traditions in a new light and influence them to also share their own, she told CNN.

“When it comes to holiday decorations in general, storage of them can be a very sentimental tradition with a lot of feelings wrapped into it,” Brennan said. “Even if it’s a cardboard box with duct tape, it shows that the meaning of the tradition isn’t always what’s holding it together. The magic is what’s inside.”

What’s in the box?

The sight of a bloated cardboard box covered haphazardly in tape is something Steve Downs is very familiar with.

Downs, the senior vice president of revenue for the National Tree Company, said “this should not happen as long as the box is not abused.”

“They are constructed to last,” Downs said about the boxes. “As the years go on and each time the tree gets shaped, it may ‘expand’ a little. It should still be able to be compressed enough to get back into the box.”

Gayle Stevenson, 77, can attest to the love and care needed to keep a fake Christmas tree box going.

For more than 25 years, Stevenson, of Brampton, Ontario, has used the same cardboard box nearly completely covered in tape to store her tree from the Hudson Bay Company. Her son posted a photo of the box on Reddit where people complimented Stevenson on its longevity.

“Who would expect a box from a tree to get attention? That’s different,” Stevenson told CNN. “I guess it’s a normal thing for people to use the same box. I’m not surprised.”

Fake Christmas trees then and now

Artificial Christmas trees grew in popularity in the early 20th Century, said James Cooper, a Christmas expert who runs whychristmas.com out of the United Kingdom.

“In the Edwardian period, Christmas trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at ‘fashionable’ parties,” Cooper wrote on his website. “Around 1900 there was even a short fashion for white trees, so if you thought colored trees are a new invention they’re not. Over the years, artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and many different types of plastic.”

The fake Christmas tree industry is thriving.

The National Tree Company sells upwards of 500,000 every year, Downs said. Business for 2021 is up from last year and sales have been strong, he added.

As fake Christmas trees have developed over time, so have the ways to store them.

Extra-large plastic and canvas bags are some of the popular storage solutions; some even include wheels. And yet despite their relative affordability (most cost between $15 and $50) the use of cardboard boxes will continue out of convenience or something more, Brennan said.

“The box is just the vessel of the magic, holding it year after year, with tape rings that tell that tree’s story from the many years of joy it’s brought to the owner,” she said.

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