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Small Talk: Finding real joy in a fake Christmas tree

I think stories from their grandmother may have given my children a false sense of the joys of a live Christmas tree. I don’t think my children even remember the years we went out and bought a live tree. They never wanted to help decorate it, and certainly didn’t want to help undecorate it. Yet, when I succumbed to an artificial tree, when they were about 8, they began to sulk and have not yet forgiven me.

It was something I thought I would never do. It was one of the best things I have ever done. One year in October, I examined the assembled, decorated artificial trees closely several times, checked the price tag, held my breath and bought one. Somehow it had always seemed too expensive. Then December would roll around, and I would set out to find a tree. It meant chasing the children around several different tree lots, while I tried to picture various bound-up Christmas trees upright in my living room. I always came home scratched and sticky with sap and exhausted from wrestling with 25 different trees. It’s rather like that joke about how everyone looks just before the bar closes. After three lots and 42 trees, they all start looking lovely and $50 sounds cheap.

I would schlep it home and somehow get it into the stand. It always had a flat side. Then I would drag in bricks, to make certain it was adequately stable. In a couple of days, the once-firm boughs dropped low and before Christmas Day even arrived, it would begin to shed like a mange-stricken dog in August. When Jan. 6 finally arrived, I was the last man standing to eject and recycle this parched creature amid a storm of needles. In July, I was still finding the last of the needles hidden behind the drapes.

Even with all this negative motivation, I hung on tightly to my fake-tree receipt, fearing I might lose my nerve. I was one of those people, who, in my youth had sneered at people with artificial trees. Didn’t they have any holiday spirit? Didn’t they love the smell of fresh pine? Now I was that person. It’s amazing how little importance the smell of fresh pine holds after you have cleaned weekly with pine-scented Lysol and had to unclog a lump of pine needles from your vacuum hose.

The reaction of friends was fascinating, as I confessed my purchase. There was scathing disapproval from a few. It was clear that the family hunt for the perfect tree was quite a different experience for them than for me, and they have my envy and blessing. Others applauded my long-term thrift, saving a tree and my effort to simplify the Advent season. The final bonus came when I decorated it. Did you know that you can bend those fake branches any way you want? It was heaven to not be at the mercy of nature’s decision on branch distribution and strength. I threw away my receipt.

I realize now that the Christmas tree was my father’s annual creative outlet. He did it all, from purchase to take down and his now-illegal lead tinsel hung so straight it truly looked like ice. But somehow I ended up with an artificial tree with lights already attached and covered enthusiastically with goofy, kid-proof ornaments. Yet it glows brightly, reflecting joy and warming the winter nights — and then it will slide neatly back into its box.

That sounds like a merry Christmas to me.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who has had the audacity to graduate to an even smaller fake tree, with a big smile on her face. Contact her at [email protected].