Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Great Tree Debate - Live or Artificial

It's that time of year when we invite nature into our homes in the form of a Christmas tree, although those of us not blessed with the ability to keep one green for several weeks may decide that faked nature is the best way to go. Kind of like silk flowers, except for Christmas.

I can remember when the only good Christmas tree was a dead one, although we tried our best to keep them green until at least Dec. 26. The trees were more than likely harvested from our own fields and woodlands. They were sprawling evergreens without the pruned density and form we've come to expect in our trees. Carefully selected and cut by the man of the house, because who paid for a tree when you had one growing that you didn't need, they were pines and cedars and the occasional spruce or hemlock, toted indoors still dripping sap and fallen leaves. From the day they were decorated until the day they came down, we battled needles and awakening insects who had been dormant somewhere in the tree.

My maternal grandmother, who always loved decorating for Christmas and was quite progressive for her generation, first introduced us to an artificial tree. I'm sure she did it because she was tired of battling the needles, because she always liked her home spotless. After putting it together and tweaking the limbs to a more desirable shape, it was still a sparse tree compared to today's models. Once the lights, garland and ornaments were added, however, it wasn't too bad.

Admit it, despite their central role in our decorating and celebrating, once they are decorated, unless there is some malfunction like a broken tree stand or toppled tree, we don't really see the tree any more any way. It's all about the lights and ornaments. There is the ritual of the Christmas tree selection, if you go that route, but once again, it's more about the decorations and how they look than what the actual tree may be.

My mom was eventually converted to an artificial tree as well. I can't remember if it was when Ma upgraded or if she did it on her own. When I started out in a home of my own, I did so with a hand-me-down tree, although I had to buy my own decorations. When my daughter was born, the beautiful glass decorations I had bought were stored in the garage as I replaced them with more durable ones. A couple of years later, we moved and left them behind. Of course, I didn't miss them until Christmas, and even now would not feel I could safely put them on the tree, but I do wish I had drug them along for some future date.

Throughout the years, I've had a lot of hand-me-down trees. A former mother-in-law gave me a beautiful flocked one that I stored in an outside building while I still lived in Galax. My children can still recall the day we went to retrieve the tree only to find it had been turned into a rat's nest. The dogs, cats and I chased and killed rats for some time to clean out the building, but the tree was ruined.

I have repeatedly tried "live" tree, both the ones that are dug and meant for replanting and the ones that are cut but don't know they're dead yet. No matter what approach I use, they figure out they are doomed and are denuded long before the holiday season is over. There have been no survivors and while I have spruce in my yard, they have never visited indoors as Christmas trees.

Continuing a grand tradition, my daughter has inherited my hand-me-down trees. She first needed a tree about the time I decided a pre-lit one would be nice. This winter, the pre-lit, flocked tree complete with pine cones, has been passed on to her home as well since a gas heater takes up the corner where it once resided at my house. Instead I bought a narrow tree that fits better in my house and in my storage options.

I know, a live tree would free me from having to deal with any storage, and I live close to Christmas tree farms which have taken over many of the fields that were planted in cabbage when I was a child. Christmas trees are a thriving local industry, but not one I've been able to support, no matter how much I may prefer the idea of a live tree. I know how it would end up.

It's a trade off. I miss the smell of fresh greenery, but compensate with scented air fresheners or candles, and face it, the fresh cut smell doesn't really last that long. What I don't miss are the needles raining down on the floor, the struggle to reach the base and water the tree, or the effort to drag the tree out without leaving every remaining needle in the house after Christmas.

So I'll stick with a fake tree, even if it isn't the chic thing to do any more or even the most manageable option the other 11 months. I will admit, however, to some tree envy for anyone who can bring home the live version and keep it green through the holidays.

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