Wednesday, December 19, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Every year we have the same argument in our house. Real tree, or artificial? But it's futile, because I ALWAYS WIN. In my book, it's not Christmas without a REAL tree!

We had the same "discussion" every year in my family when I was growing up. Artificial trees then, of course, were in their stiff-branched infancy.  (Did you know the first artificial trees were made by a brush manufacturer?) Aluminum trees had yet to become retro and were just tacky. 

It was my mom who was the nay-sayer. When my dad and I set off for the tree-lot, she'd always say, "Well, don't get a big one, then," and we'd always come home with a seven-foot tree. To this day I don't understand why the size made a difference to her--the tree went in the living room, not the den, and was in no one's way--but for some reason, it did. A holdover from the Depression-era frugality of her own childhood perhaps.

She had good enough reason for not wanting the real tree, however, fire-hazards that they were. The tree of my childhood looked just like the tree in A Christmas Story (getting to that later this week!) A horribly prickly Scotch pine, already dropping yellow needles, anchored by a stand made of two crossed sticks.  And the lights, of course, were multi-colored C9 bulbs, hot enough to burn your hand when you touched them.

But real trees have come a long way in the decades (!) since. Now we get beautiful Noble firs from the lot down the street--one year they came in from Oregon with snow still on them! They are fresh, and soft, and take up a half-gallon of water a day. Two years ago we switched to LED lights, safer and more energy-efficient. We got the warmest white we could find, and when the light still seemed a little sharp, we filed every single bulb with emery boards. (Now that's dedication. Or maybe insanity...) The rougher surface makes them glow. (That's last year's tree in the photo at the top.)

So why the argument? Well, first, the whole thing is a lot of trouble, I'll admit. And my DH says that fake trees are more environmentally friendly. I say real trees are a viable, renewable crop that creates jobs, puts oxygen into the air, and puts land to use that would otherwise lie fallow.

So who's right? This year I decided to look it up. And you know what?  I am

According to every source I checked, the real tree comes out tops, and I learned lots of things I didn't know about artificial trees. Most are manufactured in China, and the petroleum-based chemicals used in the process are not only damaging to the environment but to the workers who produce them. Some trees contain lead, which can filter out into your home. And artificial trees are the greater fire hazard. 

Our city, like many, mulches the real trees after the holidays (it's called "tree-cycling") and that mulch goes to use in city parks, helping to keep the ground moist in our hot, dry Texas summers.

So this year I'm going to enjoy my tree, guilt free.  What about you, REDS and readers? If you do a tree, do you go for the GREEN?


  1. Real trees, always, in days gone by . . . now, an artificial one [with fiber optic lights] as the cats seem to be less inclined to try and climb the artificial tree. But we still decorate the real trees in our front yard . . . . I guess that way we get to enjoy the best of both worlds!

    For me, it’s always been less about the tree itself, more about the ribbons, the bells, and the ornaments we’ve collected over the years, the ones that remind us of the people, places, and things that matter the most to our family . . . these are the things that count the most.

    In due time the outdoor trees will lose their decorations, but this year the artificial tree will stand in its place until sometime in April when our currently-deployed daughter comes home and we will all gather to share Christmas with her.

  2. I like your tree, Debs. Ours get smaller every year, but they are pretty. We like the real kind. Once in awhile we'd get a potted tree and plant it on our little ranch by the Kern River after the New Year. Now we aim for one we can decorate and get out to the sidewalk for tree collection day.

    We have to put out the St. Nicholas statue I bought it at the Chestnut Hill Mall when we lived in Boston. I set him on a snow blankie, and our cat, Buffalo Thunder-Paws, curls up against him. It's the same very year. Santa is Buffalo's old friend, and all through the holidays they are inseparable.

    I love the smell of pine and want it everywhere. It's genetic I think. My pine cone mug... ever present. November the flannel pine cone sheets from Bean's come out. One of our grandchildren is named Pine. When I was a kid, so did the white pine and tar cough syrup. I think it's been banned, now. The tar? I liked it. No. Auntie-Mom says it had chloroform, antimony, of course alcohol, and – morphine - in it. I loved it. They put chloroform in cough syrup until 1976. And tooth paste. Geeeeee... why?

    I missed the music discussion, so I want to mention that during the holidays, my kitties, Buffalo Thunder-Paws and She-She Marie-Rie come sit in front of the bad when I am about to go to sleep, and the stare at me until I sing Jingle Bells, Over the River and Through the Woods... , and Away in a Manger, between Christmas and New Years. Then they leave. I have no explanation for this surreal behavior.

    Buffalo Thunder-Paws also listens to audio books. When he sees me put my iPod into the Bose stand, he jumps up on the bed and sits on the edge by the Wave and stares at it the whole time the the books are playing. He has a special fondness for readers Ralph Cosham and Michael Deeby. Dunno. Dunno. Dunno.

  3. We went to a tree farm just up the road in New Hampshire and cut our tree on Saturday. I don't like to get one too early or it's dried out and no longer fragrant by Christmas.

    I have quite a collection of ornaments from years past but am going to scale down how many I put on this year. For me the tree has be down and everything cleaned up by New Year's Eve. This year I'm taking myself off for a 48-hour writing sprint on the 30th so I'll have to have it down on the 29th.

    Filing down LED lights? Wow. Had no idea!

  4. Yikes, Reine! Morphine and pine tar. I guess for the same reason the original Coca-Cola contained cocaine--mad scientists on the loose.

    I love the smell of a real tree, but that's it. Do not love the needles dropping, or the need to water one daily, or the anxiety of getting the darn thing to stand up straight and steady. Not to mention the disposal situation, or just getting one here in the first place.

    We have had a fake tree for maybe 24 years, zipped up into a bag in the basement, but it hasn't seen the light of day for a three years or so, since we have traveled to my oldest daughter's house for Christmas. My grandson is almost eight now, and it's more important for him to be where Santa can find him, you understand. :-) My daughter has a real tree this year.

    The only tree that is up in our home is a tiny, two-foot tall fake tree that was my father-in-law's. It stays decorated all year, but with a bag over it.

    My favorite tree ever was the balled and burlapped one we had our first Christmas in this house, 27 years ago. It's now over 40 feet high, out in the backyard, and is usually decorated with cardinals and goldfinches this time of year!

  5. I agree with Karen, LOVE the smell of a real tree. Like in your house, Debs, my mother would beg my dad to bring home a little one and off he'd go (night before Xmas eve) with us in tow and we'd drag home one that barely fit in the back of the station wagon with the back seats down and us crammed into the front. He'd have to cut off the top to get it into the house.

    We put that tree up on Xmas eve, took it down day after New Years. What I don't get is how many people seem to put up their trees right after Thanksgiving and keep them up for weeks.

  6. We live slap dab in the middle of Christmas Tree heaven and have several tree farms within spitting distance.

    For years we had a real tree, but for the past couple years we've used a small green artificial tree. Last year we even put it away with the lights on it.

    Our house is so little that it took major furniture rearranging to accommodate a larger tree. It just started becoming a chore rather than fun, so time to move away and on to something we enjoyed. It sits on top of an old chemistry chest in the sunroom and it's perfect. For us. But scaling back on ornments we've collected over the years was tough and took a lot of thought. Now I have a box with a big note attached - "Ornaments to be used every year." That way the others don't get brought into the house from storage and I don't have to go through the decision making process again.

    I too missed the music discussion. I think it was Deb who mentioned Rod Stewart's Christmas CD - y'all, it is wonderful!!!! I love it and I still love my Johnny Mathis Christmas CD and Harry Conick, Jr., and Bing Crosby, and Frank, Dean and Sammy's Rat Pack Christmas CD . . . .

    Happy Holidays, everyone!

  7. Real tree - all the way. We cut it down ourselves and every year fret that it won't be as lovely as the previous year's, but once it's decked in lights and ornaments (we are big on bird ornaments, especially) it looks enchanting.

    I adore that unmistakable balsam smell, too.

    Like Hallie, I do wonder about people who keep their real trees up for a month. They must be some crispy by the time they haul them out to the curb or compost pile.

  8. Real tree! Although we don't have one.

    We planted three pine trees in our back yard though, this summer to screen the pool form the creepy neighbors..I'm considering decorating those this year!

    But we still have the fun of a tree--sort of--our next door neighbors in gorgeous and in their picture window--and our stairway window looks right into it. So we see their lights every night!

  9. We always had a real tree, and made a real family day out of it. Driving to Connecticut to select it, cut it down, tie it to the roof. Making a fresh cut. Putting it in the stand. Adjusting it. Finally decorating it and realizing it was the best tree we ever had. Every year.

    And bcause we go away to visit the other side of the family for a few days after Christmas, we'd return to a tree that had dried out and had to be taken down. Before New Year's day.

    I finally talked my husband into looking at fake trees, and we found a gorgeous one. It looks like the best Fraser fir we ever cut. We can go away and return to a tree that still looks good and that we are happy to leave up past New Year's day. (I try to keep it up till Epiphany but my house is so small that I usually take it down earlier because I crave the space again)

    Deb- we also switched to clear LEDs a few years ago and were dismayed by the bright bluish light they threw out. I never thought to file the bulbs. Instead I COLORED all 700 bulbs with a light orange Sharpie. They are much warmer looking now.

  10. Real tree! A few years back we went to Rome for Christmas and as much as I loved it, I missed my tree! This year it's returned to the living room after 4-5 years in the kitchen. 8 ft tall and no room for a star so I made do with some gold ribbons. I have many more decorations than I ever use but can't bring myself to get rid of them.


  11. Debs,
    I think I'm with the majority here. I HAVE to HAVE a real Christmas tree every year, in part for the smell, in part because my mother switched to a FAKE tree and I never got over it.
    We always get our real tree on my daughter's birthday 12/12 and she gets to pick it out. Because she was away at school and couldn't be here she asked me to wait until she got home. It's been KILLING me to be treeless. But she COMES HOME TONIGHT, and really, she IS the Christmas spirit in this house, so I will have my real tree tonight or tomorrow!

    So Hallie, we usually put it up the 12th and TRY to wait until the Ephipany down - which is almost a month but it does get dry and crumbling and sometimes I just pull the thing down after New Years.

  12. Ro, I put all my ornaments on. The ugly ones go in the back:-)

    Ornaments! I still have one that was my grandmother's favorite. And the ones my daughter made in grade school (they are NOT the ugly ones), and my friend Diane's hand-painted Southwestern ones... the list goes on.

    And that's really the crux of it, no matter what kind of tree. It's the emotional attachments and the layers of memory.

    Anonymous, you painted all your LED bulbs ORANGE! And I thought we were OCD:-) Seriously, the LEDs have got lots better in the last couple of years, although they are still not as pretty as the incandescents. But that was my compromise. Rick used to do professional lighting, which was how he knew roughing the surface of the bulbs would soften the light. They do glow now, very pretty.

  13. I love real trees. I used to love going to the tree farm, choosing a tree and cutting it down, bringing it home in the van with that delicious fresh pine smell.

    But we sold the van and it became too much of a hassle to bring home a tree on top of a car. Also I found that trees bought at lots were dry and dangerous by New Year. So we reluctantly switched to artificial. I have to admit it looks wonderful. Pre-lit, easy to assmeble, a glowing masterpiece.
    But I do miss my pine smell. I'm about to buy a living wreath.

  14. We cut a small Douglas or grand fir on our own woods, which helps prune them so other trees can grow taller, and keep them fire-safe. My gloves still smell like fir, and I have no interest in washing them!

    As Debs says, it's about the emotional attachments. My mother just gave me a big box of glass ornaments from the late 1940s and 50s, and we don't have room for them, so they're in a big bowl on the dining room table, and that's just as much fun!

    I love decorating outside trees! Alas, a grinch took down the garland and bulbs we hung on a roadside tree last year, but I will try again -- next year!

  15. Real tree, every time. A fireman friend of mine told me to "water" it with generic, cheap lemon/lime soda. He said the sugar and the carbonation help keep the tree fresher and make it less of a fire hazard. I figured he knew his stuff and have done it since the 80's, and it always works.

    I missed the music discussion too, and if you go to YouTube and search for Pentatonix "The Carol of the Bells", well, that's my go-to sound this year. The last few seconds of the video is a push for their Christmas CD, but the music itself? Lovely!

    Merry Happy Joyous Days, everyone!

  16. Hank,

    Does Louise Penny know about your three pines??

    My preference is for a real tree; however,that is too physically challenging for me. Over the years, I've fallen in love with my Charlie Brown artificial tree. It's the ornaments that make it special. Some were handmade by nieces and nephews. Some were made by my sister's deceased mother-in-law in a craft program, same sister made some beautiful woven stars, some were grab bag gifts, and most of the others were gifts from various people over the years, and I bought a lot of old-fashioned glass ornaments at estate sales. I am not sure if my back will allow me to get the tree up from the basement this year and then set up in the living room. I am thinking that it might be nice to instead hang garland all around, and hang ornaments from the garland. I've been decorating my baby sister's room at the nursing home that way for the past three Christmases and it looks quite nice. I would still get to see my favorite ornaments. I like the idea of filling a glass bowl with ornaments, too; something else I can consider!

    I took today off to make some Christmas goodies and do some other holiday-related tasks. I think it's time to go check on something in the oven!

  17. Deb - The bulbs didn't come out orange! I din't paint them , I colored them using Sharpie markers. They now have the pale yellow-ish hue of the old white incandescent bulbs we used to use. The stark bluish-white of the LEDs was softened to a lovely glow by the Sharpies. It didn't take too long, but my fingertips looked a bit peculiar for a few hours.:)

  18. Din't? Yikes- I need to proofread before hitting Post.

  19. ...Jan, I wait until Little Christmas (Epiphany) too. Otherwise it seems like Christmas interuptus to me.

  20. So glad you could defend real trees with facts! For many states they really are big money makers for tree farmers. And we still use the OLD lights. Hot, big, bright, and wonderful. I love them beyond words, and they truly say Christmas to me.