Sunday, December 02, 2012

It's not real, but it's spectacular

This is the second of my "Advent Calendar" Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I'm challenging myself to complete it, see here.

This is not an ornament. I am totally cheating.
For my family, the only acceptable Christmas tree was a real one. Not that we ever trekked out into the woods with an axe and hauled back a fir, of course. We were suburbanites in the 80's, which meant we would go to one of the places that popped up in grocery store parking lots in December, pick out the perfect specimen, and crawl back home with an 8-foot tree strapped to the minivan roof. Every turn on the trip home was exciting, as the tree strained against its twine restraints and the trunk shifted slightly left or right, just barely visible through the rear window if you were looking for it, which of course we kids were.

My husband recently talked me into switching to an artificial tree. A "7.5ft lighted Grand Fir with 400 warm white faceted LED mini-lights", on sale at Target and with excellent reviews online, naturally. It's nice. It fits the space. It doesn't need daily watering, or daily chasing the cats away from the nasty tree water. It doesn't drop needles everywhere. It never has any gaps between the branches, because we can fluff them up however we like. We don't need to saw off the bottom of the trunk to make it level and to let it take up water. There's minimal risk of harassment from cartoon chipmunks stowed away between the branches. Most importantly for my husband, it's pre-lit, which means that he doesn't need to fight with strands of lights, untangling them and stuffing them deep into the tree.

I think I'll always prefer the idea of a real tree, but because my husband does most of the work involved with putting it up and taking it down, I felt that I should back down and let him get us a tree that would be easier for him to deal with (I have a similar policy when it comes to purchasing tools or yard equipment). I'm allergic to Christmas trees, unfortunately. Two years ago when we had a real tree and I decided to do the hard work of jamming light strands into place, I ended up with scratches on my arms from the sticky branches. The scratches quickly puffed up into angry welts and my arms itched for three days despite the Benadryl stupor I placed myself in. I guess you could say we bought an artificial tree for medical reasons.

I miss some things about real trees. One is the annual family outing to select the perfect tree. Doing that as a child, I felt like Charlie Brown or Linus, wandering through the brightly-lit tree lot, looking for just the right tree to bring home. We needed one that wasn't too small or too tall, one that wasn't too skinny or too fat, one that had branches in all the right places and that was pliant and fresh. It was a family quest. Each of us branching out, hunting, bending thin branches to test their flexibility, and shouting to the others when a good candidate was found. It's difficult for me to imagine the annual trek to the garage to drag out the Christmas tree box becoming a treasured tradition for our future children.

More than the hunt, more than anything, I miss the smell of a real tree. All through December, arriving home and opening the front door used to mean walking into Christmas. Even before the decorations or tree were visible, the fir smell would get up into my nose and push familiar buttons, making me feel warm and excited for the holiday. My Christmas spirit, it seems, is tied to my sense of smell more than I realized. Maybe a real fir wreath, placed near the door, will awaken that side of my Christmas spirit again.

The tree is beautiful, though, regardless of its chemical composition. A huge part of its beauty, for me, is our precious collection of Christmas ornaments. We each have our own favorites from our younger days (thanks, Moms, for keeping them for us), and we add to them every year as we move through the world together. Every vacation, every new adventure, beings us a new ornament to tie to those memories so that we can revisit them every year as we decorate the tree. And now that our tree is up, and our dear memories are on display, we've got Christmas in the house. No humbugs for me this year.


  1. Maybe you could get some of those cute little rosemary trees that are so plentiful at the grocery stores this time of year. You get the smell and the tradition of getting it at the grocery store. To boot, you will have fresh rosemary for holiday baking!
    Merry Christmas!!

    1. While it's not quite the same smell as a Christmas tree, rosemary does smell pretty! I might just get one... I wonder if the cats would try to eat it, if I left it in the kitchen.

  2. Anonymous8:35 PM

    Get a small real fir tree for the family room, stick it in a plant pot. Just an idea