Thursday, December 3, 2009

To cut or not to cut?

This photo was taken 4 years ago. It must have been my turn to choose the theme because I vaguely remember that everything had to be green, red, or white, - or - had to be a wooden toy or old timey thing.

The title of this post is stolen from the survey posted on Rosey's blog Dung Hoe. Be sure to visit her blog and take the quick vote. The question she poses is simple - real tree or artificial (or neither)?

Because I prefer not to enter treacherous territory by discussing the religious aspect of Christmas or the sustainability/waste aspect of cutting trees, I think I'll just reflect on the simple matter at hand. Real or artificial - as it has pertained to my life.

I grew up with artificial Christmas trees. I don't think I really knew that people cut real trees, (especially since I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area). Each year, my mother would lug the big box from the basement and would have the tree decorated and ready to surprise my sister and I upon coming home from school. When I got older, I remember helping my mother match up the colored base of each branch with the colored hole on the tree "trunk". After this step, we'd bend each branch just so to try to fluff up the tree as much as possible. I guess as a kid, it was just important to have some colorful thing towering over the REAL focus of the season - presents!! Ironically, another artificial thing was the wrapped empty boxes my mom would put under the tree to make it look like we had more presents! Not cool when you think there are 5 presents left and you find out they're just the fake presents to make the tree look nice! Come to think of it, another aspect from my childhood was a little troubling. Santa used to leave cool things in our stockings on Christmas morning (hung on our bedposts) - hello kitty stationary sets, good candy, etc. One year, there were more clementines and fewer goodies. The next year, there was crap in the stocking that my mom must have scavenged the house for - like toys that were ours but we hadn't seen in a long time, Chinese candies that we'd have packed in our lunches, etc. Come on, Santa doesn't give kids Chinese candies! Anyway, fortunately I'm not too scarred by these transgressions made by my mother.
(Photo below: Scott dragging in the tree, the excited screams of kids behind me jumping up and down)

When I moved out of my parents' house, I would always use artificial trees because the thought of cutting down a real tree for my own superficial needs seemed not right. Scott had always made the case for a real tree, as growing up (in Florida of all places!), he always had real trees. The first year we had a REAL tree was when my first child was a toddler. I remember Winter had woken from a nap and a gigantic tree (literally touching the ceiling) was awaiting her as she ran out. There's no way any artificial tree could be fluffed to make it look so full. We probably commented several times a day about how amazing that tree smelled. We constantly obsessed and fussed over that tree. We watered and touched and smelled that tree daily. That year forward, it has become a tradition for my husband to go to his favorite tree guy, bring the biggest and fullest tree home, and for all of us to decorate it together, x-mas music in the background.
It's really a full day affair as each ornament carries a story that must be told every year. Now that our kids are older, we are each taking turns choosing a theme for the year, and we each buy one new "special" ornament a year. There's the pickle ornament that is supposed to be hidden and searched for on x-mas day. We always say, "This year we HAVE to remember to put it in the tree", as we set it on the bookcase waiting to be hidden when kids are not around. Each year, it remains on the bookcase until we're packing everything back up and discover it! There seem to be a million inside jokes and special memories in the gigantic plastic Christmas boxes. All these memories tucked away for 11 months just pour out on tree day each year. It's a joy to revisit each memory each year at this time.
(Photo below: Lyric is 10 months and helping)
(This photo below was taken 4 years ago. Kids taking a break from decorating)

For the first couple of years, I had a problem with the practice of cutting down a tree, hanging balls on it, and throwing it on the curb a few weeks later. Every year, I still feel sad seeing tree upon tree on the curb, dry, on its side, tinsel blowing with the wind.

I do think my family has created lots of traditions that involve having a real Christmas tree. An artificial tree would lack the fragrance that takes you back in an instant. It wouldn't have the sheer number of boughs to hang the dozens of special ornaments. Waiting for dad to bring the box up from the basement wouldn't hold the same sort of anticipatory excitement as waiting for dad to come back from the tree guy - tree tied to the top of the car. The kids literally sit by the window and wait for his car to drive in. I still haven't fully reconciled my unease about chopping down a tree, but I can tell you that the tree that is sacrificed for my family each year is fully worshipped and a foundation for memories new and distant.
Kids in this photo are a year older than in the previous photos. Lyric is walking and talking here and has become fully involved in the decorating!
This is how an almost-2 year old decorates

Found this in the vault along with the others - this is Lyric finding a very clever way to hide herself in the coat rack!


  1. Your lovely daughters really did a good job! The tree is beautiful. We can only get real ones from Ikea but they have limited stock every year. Thinking along this line, as long as they are still selling real trees then it should be alright to buy one. Moreover they have already chopped the tree so must well bring the tree home he he... I believe that the growers would replace each tree they supplied or even plant more each year. Happy decorating your tree and home for the festive season. I have always enjoyed doing this every year :-D

  2. Fantastic pictures! I had to LOL - we have a pickle too, and the same exact thing happens, it gets left on top of a shelf waiting, and gets forgotten. :o)
    We bought a fake tree last year, and my husband grumbled the whole time he was putting it up this year. He was raised without Christmas, so I think the excitement of a real tree is important to him.
    Good work, creating such fun memories for your kids!

  3. Wendy, my story is the reverse of yours. I grew up with real trees but now have an artificial one that I found, forlorn by the side of the road several years ago.I decorate it every year with ornaments that have personal meanings for my husband and me and it looks very cute.
    We don't usually spend Christmas at home, so it has not made sense to get a real tree. Maybe someday we'll go back to "real."

  4. Wendy,
    Thanks for sharing all those special memories and photos. Your family is so cute!
    We have done the "hiding pickle" tradition as well, this year the tree is too skimpy to hide it anywhere!
    It's great to move out and make your own traditions with your own family. I bet you fill your kids stockings with fun stuff. My mom used to put soap on a rope. :)

  5. Love your real tree vs artificial tree story. I've always been a real tree person. The only plus to an artificial tree is the option of putting it up earlier and leaving it up longer.

    As for the rightness or wrongness of cutting a tree down to put up in your home...well, living in Michigan, we are well aware that this is an industry. Trees are cut and planted to keep an ever rotating supply. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

  6. Thanks ladies. Yes, it makes a lot of sense to use an artificial tree when you travel. In fact, I guess that's why we never tried to get a real tree until we were settled down and near my family.

    Rosey - I used to get soap on a rope too!! Totally forgot about that. That was in the early days when we'd get good candy, hello kitty stuff, and soap on a rope.

  7. I love this story today about your family preparing for Christmas. This is the first time that I have heard about the 'hiding pickle' story. Now I know what it is. You have such an adorable family. I guess having a real christmas tree makes the season ever more real and sentimental. Most of the people here use plastic trees because it is not easy to get the real one. In Asia, many non christians celebrate Christmas too. I guess it is the wonderful atmosphere that is present everywhere during this season and New Year is just round the corner.

  8. Looks like your girls had a great time decorating the tree. Fun post!

  9. So I'm glad you weren't too badly scarred from your childhood stocking stuffers and 'fake presents' under the tree, Wendy...cute! And, hey! Lyric's sock is MIA in that first photo...we had alot of! Two years ago, I bought an artificial tree (expensive!!!) and the following year, the lights didn't work! What a hassle to send it back (after the replacement lights didn't work!)...I had to scope out dumpsters for a 'big enough' this year, we are back to the real thing ;)

    Enjoyed the girls happy faces~your 2yr. decorates like me...but my eye-level is 5 ft...haha!

  10. I am in the firmly cut category. Growing up we always had a real tree. It was not till I was in my mid twenties that my mother put her foot down and bought a fake, after all, she was the one stepping on needles months later.
    We actually stand our tree up outside after Christmas, near the kitchen window and hang suet balls on it. The birds ove it and I can get a real close look at them.

  11. Hi wendy, what i specially appreciate and relate to in this post is the unresolved dilemma ('I still haven't fully reconciled my unease about chopping down a tree'). Pros and cons, greys and greys and greys ... the main thing is that the children are happy. cheers, catmint

  12. Fake presents! That's priceless! I'm sure she had good intentions.

    Cute kids and great sentimental post.

    BTW, 'hiding the pickle' is a Germanic tradition, I believe.

  13. Anonymous - did you check out the cute dad?

  14. I did, and I must say the dad is every bit as cute as the kids. For many years my choice has been a living tree. When our property was small, we would use the same tree for several years before planting it in the ground. Now that we have space, the trees go in the spring after holiday duty. It even ramps up the nostalgia factor to have the trees in the landscape as reminders.

  15. I really like your christmas tree story. Just to get a pine tree is so difficult & rare in my place and so its easier & more reasonable to settle for a fake one.
    Because also for another reason -its tropical & the tree dies within days, and fragrance you might expect would be a rotting one.

    Glad that you can cherish are real life one. I often thought of keeping one in a pot and keep it indoors and decorate it for christmas & when its over put it out again. And so I boughta small one, it died within weeks.

    If you really like a life tree, would it be easier to keep a potted one and when the season is over and tend it in a garden and re-sue it for the coming years?


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