O (Fake) Tannenbaum

Or Why I’m Glad We Have an Artificial Christmas Tree

Runner_OrnamentWhat 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.

As if.

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?

The Beginning

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.

New Traditions

VT_PenguinNow 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?

68 thoughts on “O (Fake) Tannenbaum

    • I used to wake up in the middle of the night and sneak downstairs to see all of the presents under the tree. Then I’d go back to bed and try to fall back asleep. We always got up ridiculously early on Christmas morning too!

  1. We’ve always had a real tree because my husband likes them. I, on the other hand, would be perfectly happy to have an artificial tree! If you miss the smell there is a Yankee Candle with pine smell you can burn. Problem solved!!
    I figure as long as he is willing to do all the hard work–set up, watering, vacuuming up the fallen needles, putting on the lights, taking it down–then okay. (and he does all of that) But the first year he stumbles…BAM…we’re getting an artificial tree, baby!!

    I LOVED this line because it is TRUTH!! “In the way only parenthood can alter you to the core, I’ve become an outright liar and hypocrite.” I totally need that on a pillow. It’s just SO TRUE!!!! :D –Lisa
    The Dose of Reality recently posted…Walking The WalkMy Profile

  2. So sweet that your girls are that excited! I definitely think it makes having a fake tree ok!
    Truthfully, I’ve never had a real one! And I’m ok with that- a lot less mess, and I don’t have to worry about Harold eating/drinking what he shouldn’t (other than the Christmas ornmanet we seem to lose each year)!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted…Tis the season – food & fitnessMy Profile

  3. In our house, we have a fake tree. It’s one of those 18″ ones or so. It’s worked for 2 years and it’ll work for this year. Next year- who knows?

    I’m planning on making a felt Christmas tree for Susanna’s room later this week. Simple. Very simple. It’ll be interactive and teaching. Fun! Cheap! I’m looking forward to it!

    Outside we have huge- 60′ pines. We live with pine needles in our house. If we want to decorate a live tree, we’ll pick one outside and do it with eco-friendly paper ornaments and then burn them or recycle them. That might happen next year when Susanna can remember it more.
    Wendy @ New Moms Talk recently posted…A Case of the DIY Stubbornness aka “When Will I DIY Learn?”My Profile

  4. Such great memories here, Nicole! Love the story of your aunt’s tree and memories of the trees in your childhood home.
    We always did real trees growing up and for the first couple of years we were married. But, like you said, the convenience of fake is nice – plus they last longer!!! So fun that your girls are enjoying the tree so much – sweet memories!!
    Kim recently posted…Names – How do you Choose Them?My Profile

    • I love that we can enjoy our tree for the entire month of December. And, yes, I love all of the sweet moments with my girls. Bean is really the perfect age for Christmas. She’s been asking us questions about Santa non-stop, and our kitchen table is covered in her seasonal art projects. She made the cutest Rudolph last night.

  5. Ah, what a great story. We got our fake tree up last night and Mr. S got to see it this morning when he woke up. He was so excited, he lightly touched (which is rare for him) every ornament he could reach. We talked last night and may do a real tree when Mr. S gets to the “remembering” age. They are expensive and a maintenance hastle; but the smell, the fullness, the dogs haking up pineneedles all month makes it all so worth it.

  6. Oh, the lies I told myself (and everyone) before I became a mother. ;)
    I would never judge one for a fake tree. I personally think it’s the ornaments that make a tree. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but if I did, I’d do the yearly pick-your-own ornament tradition with the boys. And when they are grown and flown, pack those ornaments up, send it on to them to continue their own Christmas traditions. If I celebrated Christmas. :)
    Alison recently posted…Do More Of What Makes You HappyMy Profile

    • The lies we told ourselves before we became mothers. We should write that book together! Instant bestseller! And, yes, building our ornament collection is a wonderful tradition. I can’t believe how much I appreciate all of the childhood ornaments my mom saved for me.

  7. My parents had a fake tree when I was growing up…I have never had anything but a real one since I’ve been married. My husband always had a real tree growing up. Our kids love going to cut it down. I think that might be one of my favorite traditions. But I wouldn’t judge anyone for not having a real tree. The real ones do tend to be more work…pine needles everywhere, the cats try to climb it. you have to water it. But there is something about it for me.
    Michelle recently posted…Gifts Any Photographer Will LoveMy Profile

  8. My husband brought home a fake tree from the dump last year. Seriously. The boys loved it. I told them they could have it for one year and we’d go back to a real one. I’ll compromise and let them put the fake one somewhere else. Since a large percentage of Christmas trees are cut from my state and shipped south, I just can’t imagine not having a real one. Plus I love the smell of a real Christmas tree!
    another jennifer recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Birthday Cake by BizMy Profile

    • Your hubby went dumpster diving for a Christmas tree? That’s…AWESOME! There are a ton of Christmas tree farms here too. Once you get into the mountains, especially across the NC border, every hillside is dotted with Christmas trees.

  9. And that, in my opinion, makes it all ok! I was laughing about the live tree experience from your childhood…I’ll never forget my dad cutting down a backyard pine for our tree. It was hideous! I still laugh about the memory.

    We are live tree people here, but I will say that it makes no difference–my trees are always ugly. I have no interest or talent in decorating the house/tree to look perfect. Someday my kids may care, but right now they think it’s pretty regardless!
    misszippy recently posted…Five ways to improve your running this off seasonMy Profile

    • I’m right with ya! I have very little interest and definitely ZERO talent when it comes to decorating a la Martha Stewart! Besides, trees decorated with the kiddo’s art projects are beautiful, no matter what!

  10. Here is a tip for having a fake tree – put scented pine cones in the tree to give it a little pine smell. I didn’t want to get a fake one after everyone left home, but after cleaning up pine needles for months after the last real tree, I was ready for the fake. And as you know, the tree never gets taken apart (too hard connecting all the lights) and it just stays in the corner of the Christmas room in the basement along with all the wreaths hung on the wall – a little bit of Christmas all year long. I at least take off the ornaments and pack them away with the Christmas village. Just a note: the Christmas village may not make an appearance this year – a lot of little hands, but mainly all the trips up and down the steps to set it up. Maybe just a few scattered around the house.
    Maybe you could take the girls to a Christmas tree farm and let them see the trees, get a small one for your covered porch. String some popcorn and then let the birds come and enjoy it. The girls would love it.
    Can’t believe you remember Selene’s white tree with all the expensive ornaments. You should see their new house now at Christmas! Almost every inch is decorated!
    By the way, when I tried to replace our homemade cloth angel on our tree, everyone had a fit! So the cloth angel still reigns!
    When I decorate the church for Christmas now, we still fake trees and wreaths! Oh the horror! And we don’t take them apart to store them. However the 150 poinsettias are real. They are beautiful for a couple of weeks, but what a mess to clean up!
    Enjoy making memories with your girls and a few sugar cookies never hurt!
    Love you,

    • Love the idea to put a small tree on the porch, although the chipmunks in our yard might move in! And how could I forget Selene’s tree?! It was a work of art!

  11. Convenience goes a long way once you’ve become a mom. I would trade tacky for having the vacuum up pine needles ANY DAY. In a family that religiously, “does it both,” I gladly pull my little plastic tree out of the attic each year – and in most cases, downsize Hanukkah to one or two nights so that I’m not constantly having to clean the candle wax out of the menorah. Truth.
    Ilene recently posted…Modern Family: Jersey EditionMy Profile

    • Yes, vacuuming is pretty low on my priority list the rest of the year, so I’m glad I don’t have to do it more often during the holidays. Ain’t no mama got time for that! Love the honesty in this comment, Ilene! You ROCK!

  12. A tree is a tree! Buy a tree scented candle…that is what I do. hahahaha. =)

    I LOVE real trees, but they are so messy, and I have allergies (which is why my parents stopped getting a real one when I was small), plus…the fire hazard. Ya know, so many good things about a fake-y! Although don’t ask my husband…he hates putting it together, and I hate fluffing it, but whatever, it is up!
    Crystal@TheFastFitRunner recently posted…Turkey Trot PRMy Profile

  13. When I was pregnant with Des two years ago, the smell of pine (and really anything in the world except random things) made me so sick. I made Cassidy hide a pine scented candle deep in the bowels of the basement from me. I told him if I smelled it even once, I’d vomit in his work shoes.
    I don’t remember if we had a tree that year.
    A spinning one wouldn’t have sufficed either. I’m all for fake or real! I nearly died over my real one, as you know. The pine needles are a constant pain, and you have to water those suckers. And 17 foot trees drink like fish.
    That said, it’s all about the traditions and comfort and beauty that your family desires. You’re no hypocrite!
    Tamara recently posted…Honey, I Broke The Baby & My Mind.My Profile

    • “I don’t remember if we had a gree that year.” I’m guessing NO. Ha! Not only does a 17-footer drink like a fish, but I bet it sheds like nobody’s business. Hope you have a Dyson to suck up that mess!

  14. We’re definitely in favor of the barbaric practice of chopping a tree down in its prime, stuffing it in a bucket of water and bedazzling it with all sorts of gaudiness. My favorite tree was my first as a dad.

    With just a $20 bill in my pocket, I visited a farmer’s market in Asheville with the only instruction to find a big tree. Beauty doesn’t matter.

    I handed the tree farmer the money, and said I’d take the biggest tree he had for the price, ugly or not. He looked at me, then pointed to a group of trees up against a wall. “All them there are $20 each. Pick you one.”

    Well, they were NOT $20 trees.

    They were gorgeous, humongous Douglas firs. I picked the biggest, and scraped the hell out our apartment ceiling getting that monster in.

    Thanks, tree farmer.
    Eli@coachdaddy recently posted…Guest Post: Raine of Pursuit of Peace Talks About a Man’s Influence on Her ChildMy Profile

    • Tree farmer or angel? Awesome memory, Eli. Thanks for sharing. And you MUST share a pic of your bedazzled tree on Coach Daddy. It would be criminal if you didn’t!

    • On my to-do list: buy pine-scented candle! Loved your Elf on the Shelf story. Tried to leave a comment, but my computer hates me. Or something. Thanks for stopping by Amber!

  15. Growing up we always got a real tree. I have vivid memories of going out in the woods to pick the perfect tree. And fighting over it for hours because no one had the same idea of the “perfect” tree. :-) When I had my first apartment 14 years ago, I bought a fake tree. I still have it and put it up! Although this year, we are going real. I could really care less but it’s all about building the memories for the kids.
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…5 Tips to Stay Fit During The HolidaysMy Profile

  16. We always had a fake one growing up. Matt and I cut down our own for our first Christmas together, and that ended badly. Then we bought a fake one. Then we had kids, and since we were raising them Jewish, no more tree. We both missed it for the first couple of years, but not anymore. He still talks about the time we tried to cut down a tree and almost got divorced!
    Dana recently posted…I never imaginedMy Profile

  17. I had the Burl and Ives sleigh ride into the forest kind of Childhood Christmas Tree hunt. And I don’t know what it’s like to NOT have pine needles throughout your Entire Home all the Christmas Days.
    And I cannot go back.
    We bundle up our 3 and head to the local tree farm every year.
    And yes, there is a horse drawn wagon that takes you to and from the fields. We have the Family Saw!! I kid you not. The kids love trekking the fields to find the perfect tree to take home. Then we enjoy hot chocolate while hubby secures the tree to the van.
    But I love our odd assortment of ornaments too. The kids have Disney ones they have collected, I have ones I made as a child, and the rest are pretty much the cheap shatterproof kind. A few fragile ones get placed up high.
    I’m excited just writing about it!! I can’t wait to go next week.
    Rorybore recently posted…WW: I Asked For ItMy Profile

    • Rory, this holiday tradition sounds absolutely lovely! I can just see it playing out in a Canadian Winter Wonderland. I really hope you write about it and post lots of pics!

  18. This one made me teary. It brought back so many memories growing up. I kind of miss camping out in your room on Christmas Eve ;)

  19. What other memories do you have in that cluttered but organized mind of yours? You remember things that one should easily forget but didn’t. What happened to the white angel that stood proudly at the top of the tree each year? Artificial … ugh but it does save the trees.

  20. We ALWAYS had a real tree growing up. I loved being the one in charge of watering it and it always made our house smell so beautiful. When Ben and I moved in together we did get a fake one because we lived in a 34 story condo and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to get a real tree up there. However, now that we have a house we’ve decided we’re going to keep our fake tree- it’ll EVENTUALLY become our kids tree to decorate and we will get a real tree ever year as our main tree…. holy needy with the two trees right?
    Cori @ olivetorun recently posted…Lessons from A Running InjuryMy Profile

  21. Barry and I have a small, pre-lit (even lazier, haha) Christmas tree. I grew up with an artificial tree and never experienced having a real tree as a kid. My husband, on the other hand, grew up having a real tree for Christmas each year. His parents still get one each year. I like the convenience of our artificial one, but I would also like to have a real one some year.

    My grandparents have one of those rotating trees! My grandfather sits in a chair next to the tree and decorates it while it rotates. As you can imagine most of the ornaments are in the middle third of the tree :)

    We have that same VT penguin ornament along with many other VT ornaments. Our little tree can barely hold all of the ornaments Barry and I have amassed (both of our parents dumped our childhood ornaments on us shortly after we were married). But I am looking forward to adding one new, special, ornament to the tree this year: my red 26.2 ornament!
    meagan recently posted…All dogs go to HeavenMy Profile

    • I absolutely LOVE the image of your granddad sitting in a chair and decorating the tree as it spins! AWESOME! We have a VT Santa and Snowman on our tree too. Hokie pride is a year-round affair! Display that 26.2 ornament proudly. You earned it!!

  22. We grew up with a fake tree. I always thought that’s how Christmas trees were supposed to be. I remember when it got old and we got rid of it. We tossed it out with the other real trees being collected for recycling. It was funny at the time, but I hope we didn’t mess something up!!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…Five Minute Friday; ReflectMy Profile

  23. I have NEVER had a fake tree, my parents always had a real tree, my 1st marriage (short lived) we had a real tree, & the Hubs used to grow trees for landscaping purposes SO I have a mini-tree farm (many are overgrown now though) that we just go to that division of the property & pick a tree as a family & he cuts it down… I absolutely LOVE it, but, who’s to say when she goes to college I don’t get a fake tree? I probably won’t but it’s a thought… :-) Happy Saturday & #LOBS weekend!
    Amber Day Hicks recently posted…Ladies only Blog Share Party!!! Crazy, busy, hectic, & stressful holidaysMy Profile

    • A mini-tree farm in your background? I’d totally take advantage of that too! Hmmmm, my neighbor did plant a row of Christmas-y looking trees on our property line. I doubt he’d be happy if we chopped one down though!

    • Ha! I think I’ll keep neighborly peace and stick with the fake tree for now! Plus, with my luck, we’d end up with a woodland creature a la National Lampoon’s Christmas.

  24. I feel you on this one, friend. I have been back and forth on both sides of the controversy. When we were little we always picked out a real tree at a lot where you got to cut your own tree. It was a big deal to find the perfect one. But as we got older my mom started doing a fake tree. But when I moved in with my husband I insisted on getting a real tree and shoving that baby in the corner of our first tiny 700 square foot apartment. And then my mom got a new tree and gave me her old one. It was so convenient! No needles to vacuum! It had lights already on it! But this year I was feeling sentimental and I got a real tree again. I’m vacuuming like crazy but it smells great. I’m a Christmas tree waffler.
    Stevie recently posted…Ask Away Friday with Heather of The Frill of LifeMy Profile

  25. What a great post, Nicole! Our tree is fake and on its last leg. I made Bill and the boys promise to MAKE me put it at the curb after Christmas and buy a new one for next year.

    When I was little Dad used to take us out on the farm and we’d get to pick a pine from the ones growing wild. It was always such a fun day! I’ll be writing about it soon.
    Debbie @ Deb Runs recently posted…Run With Santa 5K Race RecapMy Profile

  26. I always say we’ll get a real tree when the baby is a bit older. Our fakey is light so if he pulls it over it won’t mean a trip to the ER. It’s pre-lit so no finagling lights. No need to remember to water so if we go away it’s not a problem. It’s probably not going to burst into flames. And no sap. I swear I was still finding tiny rivers of petrified sap two years after we had our first (and last) real tree.

    And it’s funny because our family business over in Europe was a Christmas tree farm for a while! The go and saw your own kind. Love it, but what a pain ;)
    Christa recently posted…The Babby Family Goes to MaineMy Profile

  27. I am so, so behind on blogs – but working my way through! [Not exactly practicing my ‘let it go’ preaching from a few weeks ago….]

    And this post struck a chord with me. As kids, we were always a “real tree” household. Then, we became a “TWO real trees” household (one hodgepodge for the living room, and one my Mom could decorate thematically and we all could enjoy in the kitchen/dining area). Then, my sister and I eventually moved out, and weren’t there to help with the preparation and set up. The pine needles, the cleaning, the cutting…all became more than my parents were willing to handle. So they went artificial. And KMN and I? Haven’t put up a tree in years. We will NOT buy a dried out “real tree” from the Garden Center (yes, that’s where one could potentially get a “real tree” in Singapore). And we will not even put up (don’t even own) a “real tree”. I don’t miss it one bit.

    I suppose that, one day, if we have kids, we’ll want to have some tradition with them. But for now, I’m reveling in the ease, the cleanliness, and the lack of “Christmas Decoration” boxes we have in the house. [This is a double-blessing, in an apartment that is woefully lacking in closet space.]
    Holly @ Run With Holly recently posted…Culture Jolts (“Jolt” is less than “Shock”, right?)My Profile

    • My husband and I didn’t have a tree for the first six or seven years we were married. I know it sounds BAH HUMBUG, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle. It wasn’t until Bean was old enough to get excited about Christmas that we FINALLY put up our own tree. So, I completely understand where you’re coming from. Enjoy the EASE for now!

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