Now that the frenzy of Black Friday and the clamor of Cyber Monday have abated and the emails clogging my inbox reveal that I would have gotten a larger discount if I’d just waited until Total-up Tuesday or We-didn’t-sell-as-much-as-we-thought-we-would Wednesday, it’s time to turn my attention to other holiday-inspired activities. One of the perks of living in the Northeast is the ability to cut your own Christmas tree. To go out into the (albeit farmer-made) forest and chop down a perfectly pruned pine just like our ancestors did, is one of the joys of the season.
As many of you know I grew up in South Florida, where the Christmas trees on offer were trucked in on October 1st from some “real” Christmas state like Vermont. They then hung out in parking lots all across town huddled together like delinquent teenagers and were on their last stump when they finally went on sale. This doesn’t mean, however, that they were lacking in fight. Surviving on the mean streets of Hollywood, meant these trees had to be tough. Their needles were stiff and as sharp as fangs, which made hanging the lights and ornaments a masochistic affair akin to crocodile wrestling. By the end of the day, my sister’s and my arms were red and scratched and our eyes teary. But it was tradition.
You might think that holiday traditions were sparse in such a non-wintery place, but you’d be wrong. In fact these same beasts were the gifts that kept on giving. Instead of softly falling snowflakes, my sister, Jen, and I listened in the quiet of the night to the plink, plink of needles dropping onto our Cuban tile floor. And on December 26th those needle banks were the site of our favorite annual event—the Pine Needle Sweep. With the tree nearly bare, Jen and I crawled through the piles on the floor shoveling as many needles as we could into baggies. Whoever had the fullest baggie won. I don’t remember what we won, but I do remember the pure thrill of the sport.
Despite these heartfelt memories, when the price of real Christmas trees began to climb, my parents decided it was time to buy an artificial one. I guess it wasn’t bad compared to other artificial Christmas trees of the 1970s. If I remember correctly, each bough hooked into its own hole on rings strategically placed along the “trunk” and the “needles” were anemic imitations of their authentic counterparts. Of course, this tree didn’t maul us, but where was the fun in that? No crying? It hardly seemed like Christmas.
At least, though, our artificial tree was green. Our neighbors across the street displayed an aluminum tree in their picture window. They “decorated” it by bathing it in light from a multi-colored revolving disk so that the tree flashed red, green, orange, blue, red, green, orange, blue, red, green…well, you get the idea…all night long. My sister and I, being sent to bed at some ridiculously early hour like 7:30 (really, we weren’t that bad—Santa knows, after all), used to kneel on our beds and watch this troubling, but oddly fascinating holiday extravaganza for hours (it was probably only 20 minutes, but that’s like 3 hours in kid time).
So when I moved north, I happily adopted the tradition of “cut your own” Christmas tree. The unpredictable eccentricities of nature, however, can create…um…challenges. First, there’s the weather. Some years the air is pleasantly cold—just enough to make it feel like winter. Maybe there are even a few snowflakes swirling in the breeze for that Currier and Ives atmosphere. Then there are the bitter years when the temperature and the wind conspire to freeze you like the Winter Warlock in my fave animated Christmas special Santa Clause Is Coming to Town. Yeah, let’s all sing together—“Put one foot in front of the other, and cut down the first tree you see-ee-eee! Put one foot in front of the other, and soon we’ll be ba-ack in the car!!”
The second trial Mother Nature presents is the tree itself. Once, knee deep in snow and with a baby in tow, we chose what we thought was a nicely shaped, full bodied fir. But as we stuffed it into the car and secured it with bungee cords, my suspicions should have been up. And sure enough, as soon as we brought it into the house, the tree showed its true character. Like some out-of-control party guest, it dominated the family room, swallowed five strings of lights, and laughed maniacally at our measly ornaments—the entire collection of which only covered a tiny fraction of its branches.
Like the crocodile trees of my youth, it had spunk. It was jealous of the baby, swatting at him whenever he came near, and it drank copious amounts of water. I now know that it was staying fit for the nefarious purpose of escape. Twice during the night we heard disturbing noises coming from downstairs. In the morning we found the tree sprawled on the floor, no doubt tripped up by the coffee table as it tried to run for the back door. The only way we could subdue it was to tie it to nearby furniture with rope.
Well…oops!…I’ve gotta run. I hear this year’s Christmas tree pining for more water. It seems awfully thirsty lately. You don’t think? Nahh….