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Get Real

Tradition gets the ax for Christmas

It’s bad enough that I have a miniature poodle in a town where owning some kind of retriever is required by law. Much worse is the fact that—wait. Let me hide under my desk before I confess. Much worse is the fact that I also have a fake Christmas tree. On purpose! Because I wanted one! 

It wasn’t to save money. In fact, the artificial tree I bought three years ago was quite expensive. Based on what I used to pay, it equaled 15 real trees. But it was worth it. My tree is beautiful and always will be—perfectly imperfect, with realistic needles instead of those old-fashioned ones that looked like tiny strips of paper. Hundreds of tiny white lights are already wired onto it, saving me from hours of rage I used to suffer—sweating and swearing—as I tried to wind my own pathetic strings of bulbs around a tree that insisted on fighting back. 
Are you jealous yet? Probably not. Although a majority of Americans buy artificial trees, people around here usually want one they’ve chopped down themselves. And, I admit, there are some lovely things about real trees. They’re nice and fresh. They “help the farmers.” They smell great, or they used to until growers started raising scentless Frasier firs. And if you have young children, picking out your own tree and cutting it down is a nice way to fill a few hours before supper.
My husband and I used to do the whole hayride-hot-chocolate-baling-machine excursion with our kids. As time went by, though, I found myself dreading the ritual. It meant trooping through frozen mud and hacking away with a bow saw—not my favorite activity, especially when preschoolers jumping around inches from the saw suddenly announce they have to go to the bathroom.
We switched to pre-cut trees, but you can’t tell me that driving to a parking lot is a festive activity. After a few years of worrying whether I was supposed to tip the guy who put the tree on top of my car, I switched again—this time to fresh trees I bought online. Sadly, a tree that can be packed into a cardboard box tends to be rather slender. “Our tree is . . . graceful,” I told my daughter one year. “You mean it’s too skinny, like last year?” she said instantly. 
Well, yeah. Too skinny. And too mortal. The worst thing about a real Christmas tree is that the instant you wrestle it into your house, it starts to die. No matter how regularly you water it—in other words, the first day, then never again—it gradually stops smelling piney and takes on the aroma of those balsam-stuffed sachets in Maine gift shops. Ornaments start to slide off the tree’s osteoporotic branches. Then it’s the needles’ turn to fall. You end up with a shriveled brown skeleton, the one part of a Christmas tree that lasts forever unless you throw it on the fire. 
“But the environment!” you say. Oh, please. Both real and fake trees are bad for different reasons, but my tree will last for ten years or more. In any case, Christmas trees really aren’t a big deal compared with other forms of holiday waste we cheerfully accept. Fully half the paper consumed in the U.S. is used for wrapping. Forty percent of all battery sales occur in December. American household trash increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. 
I think we can agree that fake Christmas trees are no more horrible than all the other stuff. You’re not biting? Fine, but you have to grant me this much: We’re all looking for a happy, relaxed holiday with our families, right? 
I hope so, because I’m getting awfully cramped under this desk.


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