By Layli Foroudi
PARIS – The town hall in the 12th arrondissement of Paris is lit up for the festive season but the traditional Christmas tree in the public square is absent. In its place stands a tree-shaped sculpture made of recycled wood.
The municipality’s choice is in line with a trend across France and beyond to favour sustainability over tradition, and it has highlighted political divides ahead of the presidential election in April next year.
“A felled tree is generally the product of a monoculture, and monoculture is very dangerous for the soil […] and a tree that is chopped down is no longer present in nature to play its role in the capture of C02,” said Guy Tabacchi, deputy mayor of the 12th arrondissement, which aims to eliminate felled Christmas trees from public places by 2026.
That could be a challenge.
Traditionalists installed a potted conifer in front of the town hall, which the local authorities removed and planted in a woodland on the edge of the city.
“A good Christmas is to have a tree, lit up, with ribbons. This is not the magic of Christmas,” said a grandmother and resident of the 12th arrondissement, who gave her name only as Annie.
The argument has become wrapped up with the issue of national identity and has divided opinion along political lines.
“To be French is to have a Christmas tree. It is to eat foie gras. It is to vote for Miss France and it is the Tour de France because that is France,” Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the Les Republicains party, told a France 3 journalist during a TV debate.
In contrast, mayors with ecological sympathies, including in the eastern city of Strasbourg, have banished foie gras from official events.
Strasbourg municipal councillor Marc Hoffsess says hospitality can be just as French without the pâté made from the liver of ducks or geese fattened through force-feeding and judged by many as harmful to animal wellbeing and the environment.
“Identity can change. Do we have a conservative message where we cling to things from our history or should we carry a message that reconciles humans with what is at stake concerning the survival of our planet?” he said.
In the southwestern port city of Bordeaux, people who took exception to the 11-metre (36.09 ft) glass tree the municipality erected brought a traditional tree to the main square.
Didier Jeanjean, deputy mayor in charge of nature in Bordeaux, said the debate was healthy.
“The Eiffel tower is today one of the most visited monuments in France but at the time it was one of the most criticised,” he said.