City Lights Live Christmas Tree
Published: December 25, 2013 (Issue # 1792)
The holiday season officially arrived in St. Petersburg on Dec. 21 as a towering Christmas tree was placed on Ploshchad Proletarskoi Diktatury. St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, along with the governor of Leningrad Oblast Alexander Drozdenko, lit the lights on the tree, which had been felled in the forests surrounding Vyborg.
Finding the tree, a 28 meter-tall fir that is 120 years old, was a joint effort between the two governors. As soon as they learned that residents had voted for an artificial Christmas tree on Palace Square, the governors decided to uphold Christmas tradition by putting a real tree in the square near Smolney.
“At least one large, real Christmas tree should be seen in the city. We decided to give such a present to St. Petersburg residents,” said Alexander Drozdenko, the governor of the Leningrad Oblast, who dislikes artificial Christmas trees.
“[Artificial trees] are not good. First of all, artificial materials give off gas and you will smell the plastic from a distance. Moreover, making an artificial Christmas tree is worse for the environment than just cutting down a live one,” he said.
Local legislation was adhered to during the search for a real tree with which to decorate the city, which is why the tree was brought south from Vyborg. In addition to age and condition, external features — such as a straight trunk and a pleasing conical form — were also important.
“We wanted to have an older tree but at the same time it had to be beautiful,” said Drozdenko.
“This tree is the kind of traditional Christmas tree that should be seen in Russia’s cultural capital. Everybody’s opinion was to choose this one,” said Anton Lushin, the chief forester of North– West Forest Services.
The tree was also chosen because it had begun to die. In a few years, it would have needed to be cut down anyway since it could fall across a nearby road.
The governors handled all the documents for the tree and paid approximately 2,000 rubles ($60): Drozdenko bought the tree for 949 rubles ($29) and Poltavchenko paid 1000 rubles ($30) for the felling. The cost of the artificial tree on Palace Square, as well as for the decorations and other services, was 13.5 million rubles ($409,463). The remaining city Christmas trees are also artificial.
Drozdenko is delighted by the newest addition to Ploshchad Proletarskoi Diktatury. “One of the best things about New Year is the smell of a Christmas tree,” the governor said. “There are also tangerines [a symbol of New Year]. Once, when I was a child, there was a shortage of tangerines and I was overjoyed when my mother brought some home. The smell of tangerines and the smell of a Christmas tree let us become children again.”
Any of St. Petersburg’s 5 million residents can buy and cut a tree in the forest reserves of Leningrad Oblast. There, specially determined zones that need to be cleared are set aside and after the purchase of a special license, the trees can be felled. The price for such trees is a symbolic one and ranges from 6.5 rubles ($0.2) per meter for trees up to one meter in height to 15 rubles ($0.45) per meter for trees up to three meters in height. Average prices at the Christmas tree markets, which began operating in the city this past weekend, range from 1,000 rubles ($30) for a one-meter tree to 1,700 – 2,500 rubles ($52 - $76) for a 1.5 – 2-meter tree. More expensive specimens can cost up to 6,000 rubles ($182) for a 1.5-meter fir and 8,000 rubles ($243) for a meter-high blue spruce in a pot.
The city’s most popular Christmas tree bazaar is at the Christmas market on Pioneerskaya Ploshchad, near Vitebsky Vokzal. Each district of the city has its own point where residents can buy Christmas trees. Entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the Christmas spirit have to submit an application to their district’s administrative office for approval.
Although the sale of trees has already started, the sellers advise bringing home a live Christmas tree no earlier than a week before New Year since the needles start to fall quickly once brought indoors.