How do you like 'em? Real or fake?
Well it should not come as a huge surprise that I am a proponent of the real thing.
Let me explain.
Growing up in Michigan, picking out our real Douglas Fir Tree every year was a pretty big deal. Most years we would drive out to some far away farm, trek through the snow, and watch my dad saw it down himself. There were often frozen toes, a little bit of complaining (or a lot), and sometimes we would even learn new swear words while my dad had to dig his way under the pine branches and saw the darn thing off its roots. I have VHS tapes to prove it. But I swear to you, these days were among my best childhood memories. Because we would get home, thaw out, drink hot chocolate by the fire and watch my dad hoist it up onto the tree stand in our living room. (My poor dad did everything, still does. Thanks, Dad. Wow, we were really not helpful). This signaled to us Christmas had begun.
Out would come the cardboard boxes filled with every little wobbly ornament my brother and I had ever made (think Elmer's glue, cardboard, some sparkle and red yarn). There were also ornaments given to us as gifts, ornaments from my grandparents, and ornaments upon ornaments that had been collected over many years, friendships, and moments. Nothing matched. At all. There was no "theme" to our tree. But it always seemed to me so pretty in the end, how it all jumbled together somehow to become something sparkly and beautiful. I loved that each ornament told a story, and wove itself together into a very proud Christmas Tree.
I remember the woman that I took piano lessons from growing up was a decorator and her tree was a big artificial tree that seemed to just gleam gold and white. There were big ribbons and even birds made out of something like styrofoam. It looked like it popped out of a box just so and wasn't to be touched. It even matched the pillows in her living room. It was absolutely perfect.
I didn't get it. I remember looking at it and then quickly looking away, like it was sad somehow. Was this really her family tree? I wondered if the real one was hidden somewhere.
This isn't to squash anyone who loves their artificial tree. I get it. You store it in the basement and pop it out every December. How easy is that? I will be wishing I were you come January 1st, when my family is nowhere to be found and I take each pitiful ornament off one by one, as the branches spray pine needles that encapsulate my living room and leave pine-scented little cuts on my bare fingers. But in our home, I feel a strong sense of duty to carry out the real tradition. Our tree must come from some farm in Michigan, involve some amount of grunting getting through the door, smell like fresh pine every day, and then shed needles in places to be discovered all the way until June. I think little hands should hang the ornaments, and if there is a cluster at the bottom, that's OK. Sometimes the trunk sits crooked in the tree stand or there are patches of branches sort of missing, and that's OK too. I'll have to vacuum lots and water it, and I'll forget to water it and it will dry out a bit and drive me a little crazy. All OK.
A few more benefits of real trees:
Real Christmas trees help employ local farmers. They also provide habitat for wildlife and help keep our air clean.
For every tree cut down, 1-3 more are planted in the Spring.
Real trees can and should be recycled.
This is the angel that goes at the top of our tree. It belonged to my grandmother, and then she gave it to my parents, and they gave it to me. The year she passed away my dog used it as a chew toy and I cried about it. It's in no kind of good state, it barely resembles an angel anymore. I would never dream of using anything else. It will always grace the top of our tree. I love the brokenness and the memories. I love what it reminds me of - that everything here is impermanent, right down to the tree that dies each year and ends up on the curb. We can strive to be perfect but we'll never get there. There is no perfection in doing Christmas right or having the tree to rival all trees. The entire point of this whole thing is love - feeling it, experiencing it, and noticing it when it's happening. It's happening all the time, in every fleeting moment, real tree or fake.
Merry Christmas (is it too early to say that?) and happy decorating.