Saving the Christmas Tree

Outside my apartment there’s a Christmas tree sitting near the elevators. Actually it’s more like a Christmas sapling with an occasional snowflake and red ball dangling from its branches. Reminds me of Charlie Brown’s scrawny tree before it was spruced up. But that’s not the worst part. It’s a fake tree. It could stay there year after year, and nothing would change. And that’s just not right.

China loves to celebrate Christmas, rather, the retailers love to celebrate Christmas. If you throw in some discounts, play some Christmas tunes, and erect giant Christmas trees in the lobby, people should buy things. Their scheme works pretty well. And I don’t begrudge them their holiday sales. But sadly, their Christmas trees are fake. Sure some may be 20 feet tall, covered in ornaments, and wreathed in streamers, yet they lack an essential ingredient – pine needles.

I admit it is impractical to have real Christmas trees in every shopping center and hotel. But even the Christmas trees outside of the stores are fake. There’s one outside the Howard Johnson hotel that reminds me of a pyramidal skeleton with blue and gold lights. Somebody had a creative spark, but surely Howard Johnson could afford a genuine Christmas tree. Besides, they’re supposed to represent America to the outside world.

By now, you may have gathered that I do not like fake Christmas trees. I won’t deny it. If you’ve ever had a real tree, you’ll know that nothing can ever replace the fresh, piney scent of a Christmas tree in your house. It’s part of the smells of Christmas, and without it, you’re seriously missing out.

When I was a kid, my family used to drive out to a Christmas tree farm a few hours from our house. I think I was more helpful eating the owner’s gingerbread cookies than finding a tree. But I do remember walking along rows of Christmas trees, searching for just the right one. Once we found it, we would cut the base, bale it in a plastic mesh, and bungee it on top of our station wagon’s roof. After taking it home, we would squeeze it through the door (usually there was a trail of pine needles from the door to the living room) and secure it into a tree stand where it would be the centerpiece during the holiday season.

Now we’re a little less ambitious. Maybe gas got too expensive, or the tree farm shut down. At any rate, we usually find a tree at Home Depot or some Christmas tree lot near the house. Now that we’re older, we’ll often compete with each other to find the best one. Usually I pick some outrageously tall, bushy tree that would never fit into the house. Inevitably, my choice is rejected, and eventually we find the right one. We’ve also learned that picking a tree close to Christmas is a bad idea, unless you want a stunted, scrawny tree.

I may live in China now, but I will always fondly remember searching for the perfect Christmas tree and securing the base into the stand with my dad and brothers. It was a great Christmas tradition. If we had succumbed to the fake tree craze, we would have had no tradition at all. Buy a fake tree once, and it can last forever. I would probably recall climbing into the attic, dusting off the tree, and plopping it down in the living room each year. And that’s a depressing thought.

If you’re vacillating between fake trees and real trees, there’s still time to start a new tradition this year. Spread some Christmas cheer by hunting down a tree farm or lot, if more convenient, and get a stately, bushy pine tree for your home. Your family will be delighted, the tree owners will be pleased, and best of all, that dusty, scrawny, plastic tree will be a distant memory.

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