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Thneeding a little joy: The Joyful Thneed Tree Project encourages sustainable practices

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

A doorway beside Lost Dog Coffee was donated by the business to advertise the Joyful Thneed Tree Project over the past month. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN – On Thanksgiving evening, a team of community members could be seen walking along German Street, stopping by each tree to decorate it with pre-owned ribbons in vibrant colors and fabric from old Christmas sweaters.

The group was headed up by nonprofit event planner Tanya Garde Welsh, of Shepherdstown, who was inspired with the idea from seeing trees knitted around with brightly colored yarn. Her local environmental activism led her to think about how doing something similar, with previously-owned materials, could encourage people to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

“I’m very involved in politics. In our county, our Panhandle, everything’s been very tense with the factory,” Welsh said, referring to Rockwool’s plant in Ranson. “So it just hit me in the head.

“Shepherdstown does this whole Whoville thing for Christmas in Shepherdstown, and it got me thinking about ‘The Lorax,'” Welsh said, referring to the children’s book by Dr. Seuss. “The story of ‘The Lorax’ is a story about not being wasteful, about being careful about what we make and the sources of what we make and how we make things.”

In “The Lorax,” the Truffula Tree’s foliage is used for making Thneeds. Which, according to the book, can be any kind of item, whether it’s a shirt or a carpet, an umbrella or food.

A tiny Christmas tree along German Street displayed some smaller Thneeds over the holiday season. Tabitha Johnston

“We need to relearn the next part of the Lorax’s lesson, which is we’ve already made this stuff – we’ve made lots of useless stuff,” Welsh said, mentioning that, in the book, so many Thneeds were made for unnecessary reasons, that a shortage was created. “What’s more useless than a Christmas sweater? It’s a Thneed! You only wear it at Christmas and then it goes into the trash. We live in a throw-away society. As we move forward as a planet in the next decade, we need to learn the message from the Thneed.”

With this project, Welsh said she had three goals: to beautify Shepherdstown, reuse without devaluing the Christmas sweater and encourage more people to reuse their Christmas sweaters in a creative way.

Thirty-two trees were decorated with Thneeds this year. But this summer, Welsh hopes to increase that number, by holding a Christmas in July workshop for community members to make Thneeds at, with their old Christmas sweaters.

“My ultimate goal, is to inspire more folks to do this – to continue to create that message to be grateful for what you have and reuse what you have,” Welsh said.

Signs posted around downtown also encouraged community member involvement this month, by posting a photograph of one of the trees online, with the hashtags #ThneedJoy and #ShepherdstownWV.

A reindeer Christmas sweater was transformed into a Thneed, before being attached to a tree in front of the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery. Tabitha Johnston

A Thneed is attached to a tree in front of McMurran Hall. Tabitha Johnston