O’ Tannenbaum

It’s going to have to come down at some point. It just has to.

The Christmas Tree is still sitting prominently in our living room, still covered in ornaments passed down to me from my child hood, garland and white lights that I must confess, I have switched on as I write this. I love the idea of a Christmas Tree and think that they are easily the very best part of the European Christmas tradition.. with some very serious caveats.

In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about “The Tree”. Though it’s undoubtedly the centerpiece of most of my Christmas memories, I always felt a bit uneasy around that bit of forest we had dragged into our home and festooned with lights and baubles.

I have early memories of crunching through thin snow in a vast field of nearly identical little evergreen trees. My parents would walk along looking from left to the right and then to the left again, looking for just the right tree to come home with us and get us in the holiday mood. The big, red bow saw that my father carried both intrigued and spooked me with it’s elongated, almost grotesque teeth. As far as I can recall, this was the only time this particular tool had work to do each year. The curved fangs of the blade would bite into the trunk of the selected conifer, bringing it down with a few good pulls and minimal grunting from under the skirt of low bows as my father lay on the frozen ground, trying to get Mom and me to push the tree one way or another in an effort to keep it from pinching the blade.

Hauled by its trunk, we’d pull it to the car and lash it to the roof, leaving a little stump behind us and a patch of snowless ground. It made me uneasy. It’s not that I didn’t understand that these trees were planted here for the express purpose of cutting for Christmas. It just always struck me as a bit sad to see the hole it left in the otherwise neat rows of green, prickly soldiers who remained.

tree-farm

Then, it was time to head home. This brought on the next problem. When I was little, my job mostly consisted of staying out from underfoot, or at the most, closing the front door after Dad, swearing lightly… or perhaps not so lightly, wrestled the reluctant tree through the entryway. As I got older, my new job was to HELP Dad wrestle the tree in. This sounds like a good idea until you watch the chaos unfold. One of us would get the drippy, pinesap covered end and would be walking backwards. The other would have the highly fragile, infinitely pincushingly, pointy end and would be able to see nothing as they stumbled up the stairs, often times, accidentally causing the trunk end holder to stumble backwards and loose his balance.

Now there were two of us swearing.

Once inside, we needed to get it up and secured. We had one of those ancient pressed metal stands with the four long screws and somehow it was always me who got the under the tree duty. I’d lay on my stomach or side, trying not to notice how heavy my head was getting and how crampy my neck was tighten as many of the bolts as fast as I could while loose needles trickled down my neck. More swearing was often needed at this point.

“A little more to the left”
“No. That’s too much now”
“Come forward now”
“TOO MUCH! Back it up a bit”
“I think it’s still leaning to the left. Don’t you?”

That taken care of, the decorating would begin. This, I enjoyed! Getting out the ornaments was like opening up a treasure chest. I had made some, some came from friends and relatives and others were from my parent’s days predating me. I loved seeing them after a long year in the basement and other than the expected pickings from the tree, I enjoyed putting them up.

The needles were my bane. I lived in a shoe-free house. All footwear came off at the door and I spent most of my time at home in socks. The room our tree was always set up in had a deep pile carpet and the needles just seemed to lie in wait for me to go padding by and yelp as a sap tipped assassin jumped at its chance to strike at its captor. It seemed like no matter how much vacuuming was done, some of these little buggers would make it through and lie low, patiently biding their time. Months later, they still would get me and send me hobbling to the sofa to extract them from the bottom of winter softened souls.

The final piece that didn’t sit well was when we tossed it. You’d think that after all the struggling to get it in and set up and then the indignities of having to pluck it’s quills from the bottom of my feet, that I’d be happy to see it go, but mostly, it made me kind of sad. I’d look out of the window and see it flung on the snow back by the road, waiting for the city to take it away. It was obviously too small to be milled into anything and too green to burn so it was destined to be mulch. It was just going to go to waste.

I hate waste.

One time in particular, I recall looking at an abandoned tree and seeing something glint from within its branched. When I went out to inspect, I found a missed ornament. It was a little golden pear that a friend had given my parents. After that, I was far more vigilant when it came to stripping the tree of its medals prior to being drummed out of the house. I still have the little pear ornament and can see it now glinting in the small white lights on my own tree.

Tonight I’ll take it down and strip my tree of its glory, but I’m not worried about forgetting something buried deep in its braches. I may miss one, naturally, but it will be safe until next year. My tree will fold up like a green, furry umbrella and fit neatly back in its box. It’s a fake. A good fake, to be sure, but fake nonetheless. My Mother still thinks that it’s awful to skip having the real deal, but I’m happy with it. I can leave those little trees out in the field for someone else to pick and since my tree comes apart, I don’t need to stuff it through the door jam as I turn the air blue. The best part is the needles are soft and permanently attached. Little feet in footy pajamas are safe, as are my own.

Interestingly enough, the old, red bowsaw that felled so many Christmas trees hangs in my own basement now. I have to admit. I have no idea the last time I used that thing. If the trees attack though, I’m ready.

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6 Responses

  1. Pine needles and allergies were what made us get an artificial tree. Nice to not have to worry about impaled toes or the Hoover getting plugged up. Also to not worry about the real tree spontaneously combusting when it got too dry. Mine is still up and decorated awaiting my mate’s return from Japan. He missed Christmas all together.

    Happy New Year.

    He could have had Christmas with Ross!

    I’ve never been in a non-Christmas celebrating nation during the event and think that it must be a tad odd if it’s something you’ve been raised with. On the other hand, a chance to avoid the hubbub isn’t something to sneeze at either. How you have a great post-Christmas, Christmas!
    -TP

  2. We are one of those who just couldn’t bring ourselves to buy a fake tree, I just love the feel of the real pine, and the smell of it. And I guess I just have this thing for the “real” things, a habit that can be a bit tiring especially on travels.

    Today we tore ours down and as I chipped away the branches, the room smelled all foresty again. In our local circumstances, having a plastic tree seems like unnecessary adding to global pollution – we live in a country that is about 54% covered in woods and the total wood area is increasing with each year, plus some of the little fellows have to be cut down anyway to make room for the others to grow. Admittedly though, I never had to cut one down myself.

    As for your story about the tree stand – we had a big, heavy and ugly iron stand my father made by himself (the construction that would inevitably endure a direct nuclear attack) and ‘centering’ of the tree involved a substantial amount of screwing maneuvers plus sticking in little pieces of wood to achieve the perfect balance. This year my mother got herself a new one but screws were not long enough, so it was the little chips of wood all over again 🙂

    And I love your ornaments inheriting tradition.

    I know what you mean. The region where we live is about 95% pine forest, so it’s not like we’ve denuted the place. It’s just something that never sat well with me. I have no issue with the use of natural resources. It was the tossing it out on the curb that always bothered me. So temporary. Oh well. That’s my hang up. I would never begrudge someone else their own tree! The base, though… How is it that they still haven’t worked one out that will do what it’s supposed to!?

    -TP

  3. Ah yes, the old childhood Christmas experience!

    Here in Australia it’s stinking hot over the Christmas period and that means that the trees aren’t cut down in the snow. Instead, sad little trees are cut in the heat to wilt and go brown in a couple of weeks.

    When I was a kid we had a big fake tree that I used to enjoy decorating. Later in my early teenage years my family dropped the whole Christmas decoration thing altogether.

    Nowadays I couldn’t care less about the whole Christmas day thing at all on any level. Having said that, I was very happy to buy 4 boxes of programmable solar powered Christmas lights (bright little light emitting diodes) to string up in our backyard trees.

    Both my wife and I intend to leave the lights in the trees until they wear out and we refer to them as the “psycho lights”.

    We too, had gotten away from it. We used to simply put some lights on a overgrown house plant and call it good. Then… kids. That changes things. If I want to be a humbug, hey, that’s my own call. Far be it from me to deny the shortest of the house a holiday tradition that will mean so much to them for the next fifteen or sixteen years. If later on, they want to just deck out the house plant again, we can go that route too. In the mean time, I’m embracing it. Why not? I have to admit, it was a lot of fun on Christmas morning here. Short Stack was beside himself with glee.
    -TP

  4. You made me all weepy and nostalgic about Christmas trees … thanks.

    note: sap sucks and those screw in holders suck more!a

    Happy to help!;-)

    And yes… Sap does suck! Especially when you slip and put the trunk of the tree on the carpet! ARG!
    -TP

  5. This brings back sooo many memories! Getting a tree up and straight is a three person job, one to hold, one to make sure it is straight, and one to tighten the screws.

    I couldn’t bring myself to the whole tree thing this year, sadly. I didn’t have the time or the energy, because it’s my job. I go get it, usually from Home Depot or Stew Leonard’s, I put the lights on (arguably my least favorite part), and I take the whole thing apart and put it all away.

    I could definitely see a fake tree, pre-lit, in my future. That would take away a lot of the negatives about putting up a tree. Nothing beats the fragrance of the real thing, though.

    I, too, am the one whom the whole Christmas shebang falls to. It’s not that my wife doesn’t like it but she’s just never up for going through the trouble so… it’s on me. Since that’s the way it goes, I went out and got the fake-o tree. If you really want the smell, I’d look for some pine scent air freshener! I’ll do that next year!

    Seriously, I’m 100% about the fake tree. It makes things SO much easier. Do it and never look back! It’s the only way to fly!
    -TP

  6. Lovely post. Though I’ve never seen a real Christmas tree up close (I’ve always lived in the tropics), your post took me to snow and Christmas.

    Happy New Year to you and your family:)

    It was great to come back here after a while!

    It’s always great to have you back! I enjoy hearing from you, as always! Being from the North East of the U.S., Christmas in the tropics always felt strange to me. I have a feeling that if I moved somewhere green and tropical, I’d just give the whole Christmas thing a miss. Luckily for my kids, we aren’t and so the presents will continue to flow! 😉 Happy new year!
    -TP

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