Today was the day that the Christmas tree went up in our house. We alternate between real trees and a fake Christmas tree that we bought several years ago. 2004 is an even year, so this will be a "fake tree" Christmas for us. The kids don't seem to mind at all, and handing mommy the pieces of the tree as she assembles it is apparently a lot of fun for a 3 year old.
The tree decorating ritual remains familiar, with silver tinsel, multicolor lights, the glorious angel shining atop the tree, and hanging precious ornaments from the ghost of Christmas past. This has become a most precious part of Christmas for me: remembering people who have passed by hanging the ornaments they gave us. These days there seems to be more and more people to remember in our family... the past five years I've lost a mother, two grandmothers, an uncle, and a great uncle, and my father in-law. At Christmas time, we remember them all.
There was a time not long ago that I could not fathom owning a fake Christmas tree. I grew up in a "real tree" family. Thirty years ago, fake trees really did look fake, and were found primarily in the homes of the aged. But these days, telling the difference between the real thing and an immitation can be difficult.
Fake trees made inroads into my life while Jane and I were childless apartment dwellers: dragging a real tree into our apartment and violating our lease didn't make sense. So we bought a faker, and learned that breaking this old family taboo wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it would be.
The fake (hereinafter referred to as immitation) tree has its advantages, not the least of which is the cost. I estimate we broke even with our immitation tree the third time we put it up. The immitation tree is always the right size, doesn't need to be trimmed, doesn't have a good side or a bad side. I will not be stepping barefoot on pine needles in January, nor picking pine needles out of the living room carpet in July. I don't have to dispose of the immitation tree.
There are downsides, though.
By having an immitation tree, I am forsaking at least one family ritual.
One of my lingering childhood memories is of the family piling into the station wagon, on a quest to discover the perfect tree. We would visit several outdoor tree lots, sometimes during snow storms or sub zero temperatures. We felt somehow like we were doing the tree a favor, taking it in as a part of our family to share our beloved Christmas holiday. By New Years, though, this guest had over stayed its welcome and would be unceremoniously undressed, and left naked on the boulevard with the week's trash.
The thing I miss most about a real Christmas tree is the smell. There is no substitute for the fragrence of a real Christmas tree, although those little pine trees that I hang from my car's rear view mirror come close.
Here's wishing you and your family many happy memories.