Or Why I’m Glad We Have an Artificial Christmas Tree
What do you think about fake Christmas trees?
If you’d asked my opinion on this controversial subject five years ago, I’d have rolled my eyes and flippantly dismissed the question with a shake of my ponytail.
In my snobbiest, most condescending tone, I would have told you that I’d never allow an artificial Christmas tree in my house.
In the way only parenthood can alter you to the core, I’ve become an outright liar and hypocrite.
Just like I swore I would never plop my kids in front of the TV or bribe them with lollipop kick-backs, I now have seasonal duplicity atop my list of parenting fails.
Yes, as the twinkling lights on my fake Christmas tree mock me, I’m eating my words with the same frequency I inhale homemade sugar cookies.
So how did I fall into the prickly clutches of synthetic pine needles?
It was 1985, and I was 4. The perfect age to revel in the wonder and magic of the season.
We lived outside of Nashville, near my mom’s hometown. Every holiday we did the obligatory house hop to visit family.
My great Aunt Selene lived in a tiny, two-bedroom house with an airplane-sized bathroom and a kitchen that made IKEA look downright indulgent. Every year her cramped living room was further dwarfed by an enormous Christmas tree.
A flocked, dazzling, white monstrosity of a tree.
The strength of every man-made limb was tested by an assortment of glittering ornaments. And the glare of the lights cast off the blinding-white needles and twinkling tinsel was visible from space.
This tree was so hideously tacky it was actually stunningly beautiful.
I don’t remember many of the gifts Santa brought me, but I’ll never forget that tree. Selene is now in her 90s. I hope she still has that gorgeous beast.
But as much as I loved my aunt’s white wonder, it couldn’t hold a blinking, oversized bulb to the Christmas trees of my youth.
Ghosts of Christmas Past
I don’t know if our trees were Balsam fir, Virginia pine, or Leyland cypress. Some years they were tall and slender; sometimes they were sturdy and stout. But every year they were lovingly selected.
One year our church sold them as a fundraiser, and we had all-access passes to the heated trailer and watered-down hot chocolate. Most years we found hidden gems in the corners of grocery store parking lots.
We strapped our tree to the car and prayed the bungee cords held. My dad wrangled the tree into the stand, and we’d keep the dog from gulping the water out of the base.
We adorned our trees with a hodgepodge of baubles and trinkets and a cloth angel on top. We lovingly hung the crappy, homemade decorations with the same care as the heirlooms.
There was no master plan. No color coordination. The lights were strung haphazardly, a mess of shapes and colors. We had those death-trap bulbs with hot liquid pulsing through them.
By Christmas morning, our house brimmed with the heavenly scent of pine.
When pine needles poke through your reindeer jammies straight into your derriere, you know it’s Christmas.
When we left our parents an empty nest, they bought a fake tree. In more recent history, my entire family rejoiced the long-overdue demise of my in-laws’ spinning – YES, spinning! – tree. Finally, no more Christmas morning vertigo.
My Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds
I swore I’d never deny my children the experience and wealth of memories of a real tree. I envisioned a tree farm, a trudge through the snow in Currier & Ives style, and, with a spotlight from above, the perfect tree revealing itself to us.
How did an imposter wind up smack dab in the middle of my house?
In a word? Convenience.
In our Bah Humbug Period – also known as Before Bean – we didn’t even put up a tree.
With our entire family located around Atlanta, our parents’ homes have always been Holiday Central.
After Bean was born, we needed our own holiday traditions. Even though we still make the trek to Georgia, we want Santa to stop at our house too.
With every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas packed with parties, outings, and the occasional return from an international business trip, we could no longer deny the benefits of an evergreen tree.
A tree we could assemble in a flash. A tree we didn’t have to toss to the curb before our annual pilgrimage. A tree we could enjoy December 1st to 31st.
So three years ago we hit the after-Christmas clearance at Target and found a beautiful fake tree for next to nothing. It doesn’t smell as sweet, but it’s not so bad.
Now my little family lovingly unpacks our own hodgepodge of decorations. We have an assortment of Virginia Tech ornaments, precious handprints from the girls’ first Christmases, and barely recognizable art projects.
This year Bean made the crowning glory. A star painstakingly cut from cardboard, covered in foil, adorned with ribbons, and generously sprinkled with glitter and love.
Now 4, Bean is the same age I was when I first delighted in my aunt’s artificial tree. It’s precious to see the wonder of Christmas through my daughter’s eyes.
When she says, ‘C’mon, Monkey, let’s go look at the tree again,’ it turns my insides to mush.
If being a hypocrite means I get to hear those words a few extra days every year, you can serve me another steaming pile of my own words. I’ll eat ‘em – and another sugar cookie – as I bask in the glow of my fake tree.
Do you have a fake tree or a real Christmas tree? What’s your favorite holiday memory?