In December of 1993 the coroner of York County entered one of the many York nurseries. He walked between the aisles of trees and then he tied a red toe tag on the bottom of two trees, trees obtained from a Christmas tree farm. Each tag said, "This tree pronounced dead as of 1:45 pm, Dec. 8, 1993.
Why had he exhibited such a strange behavior? Was the Christmas tree farm suspected of using a tree-killing insecticide? Had the County been alerted to the existence of a rapidly-spreading fungus, one that could endanger the contents of any Christmas tree farm or Christmas tree storage facility?
No, the coroner's actions constituted part of a playful joke, an attempt to underline the absurdity of a decision by the County government. That body had recently banned the use of live Christmas trees. The product of any Christmas tree farm had been declared by the government of York County to represent a noteworthy "fire risk." And although the County government considered its ban no joking matter, not all residents in the County agreed with their decision.
In fact, more than one resident chose to treat the ban exactly like a joke, and to respond with another joke. No information has revealed the individual who first instigated this elaborate joke. Perhaps it was started by the owners of a live Christmas tree storage facility. Perhaps it had been initiated by a hardware store owner, a man who sold stands for use with live Christmas trees.
Whatever or whoever the source of this elaborate joke, it rapidly enlivened the County-wide response to the new ban. The district attorney called for an inquest into the reason for this alleged "arborcide." A judge agreed to serve as the administrator for a tree's estate. The "dead" trees received floral tributes.
The operators of every local Christmas tree farm held their collective breath. How would the County react to the playful public condemnation of the government ban? One court stenographer had been heard to ask, "When is the last time a County Courthouse burned because of a live Christmas tree?" Her question appeared in papers far beyond York, Pennsylvania, and it helped to ignite a public outcry against the reappearance of scrooge, scrooge in the guise of a member of the York County government.
At long last the County issued its response. The County rescinded the ban. The owner of each local Christmas tree farm breathed a sigh of relief. Those farmers would not be forced to spend money on an excessive amount of Christmas tree storage. They would be allowed to sell their live trees.
Most residents of York proceeded with their normal Christmas preparations. For some of York's older residents, however, the strange twist to long-cherished Christmas traditions proved more than they could handle. Many of the older residents lacked the resources for the live trees, trees that now sold at a higher price. Some chose to purchase an artificial tree, but many more simply went without any tee at all. In their minds the cold heart of scrooge had proved victorious.