'Charlie Brown' Christmas trees a stylish way to save money

Not every city can be as lucky as Washington, D.C., where on Thursday the "National Christmas Tree Lighting" begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

There's enough hoopla around the tree near the White House to make you think the recession is over. The tree has its own Web site and Sheryl Crow will perform at the lighting ceremony. If your local TV station is broadcasting the event, you can catch the live Webcast.

In the city where I live, and probably in many cities throughout the country, budget cutbacks are forcing city governments to scale back their Christmas tree festivities. Where I live, for example, in Concord, CA, the city decided this year that instead of buying and installing a cut holiday tree, which one Web site that follows the city says would have cost $15,000, it's decorating one of the evergreen trees growing in the downtown plaza.

But many cities have tree lighting ceremonies this weekend and consider the cost of buying, decorating and lighting a tree a good way to bring the community together, along with bringing shoppers downtown with the tax dollars their holiday spending will add to the city coffers.

It looks like a large Charlie Brown Christmas tree, meaning the sparse one that Charlie Brown found before his friends spruced it up for him.

The city should be commended for being so frugal. Maybe it will start a nationwide movement where "Charlie Brown trees," or at least larger versions of them, will be seen as smart, frugal ways to celebrate Christmas.

From a Concord press release, the city sounds proud of using an existing tree.

"We had to consider the City's budget situation, and using a tree in the plaza is both less expensive and environmentally preferable," downtown program manager Florence Weiss said in a city press release. "Although the tree in the plaza is smaller in size than a cut tree and has been compared to a Charlie Brown tree, it's large in spirit."

At a time when many cities are cutting back on spending and asking businesses and citizens to donate for Christmas lights and other holiday traditions, I'm proud to see my city taking a lead and decorating what it already has.

Unfortunately, I'll be out of town Saturday and won't be able to make it to the tree lighting ceremony. But I'll take my family there next week, where maybe we'll sing Christmas carols and listen to an MP3 playing of Linus' speech on the meaning of Christmas.

I'm pretty sure Linus doesn't say anything about having to spend $15,000 on a Christmas tree.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be found at www.AaronCrowe.net
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