An Evergreen Christmas

It would be so easy to take the “Christmas tree in a box” approach. Like performing a rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick, all I would need to do is open the carton, reach in, pull out a pre-lit fully decorated tree with color-coordinated faux satin skirt”¦and voila! Instant Christmas atmosphere”¦and I could move onto the next chore of the season.

On the days when the list of Christmas tasks that needs to get done ““ on top of the usual list of to-dos ““ seems insurmountable, I linger a little longer in front of the “Blue Grand Pine 7.5 ft Pre-lit Christmas Tree” at Costco. “Could I do it? Or would the kids disown me for selling out and not getting a real tree?”

Staring at the display model, I noticed that the appearance of artificial trees has really improved. The needles and branches look much more realistic and less like a sculpture made out of wire coat hangers and Astroturf. And evenly spaced lights that are guaranteed to burn for 1200 hours? That would be great; there’s not much that makes me crankier than plugging in the extension cord once the tree is fully festooned with ornaments and garlands only to have half the tree stay completely dark. Which one of the15 strands is the bad one?!!

This makes the option of buying a plastic tree that much more tempting. “But what about the great smell that the Christmas tree gives the house? I know, I’ll just add a few of those dangling pine-scented car air fresheners as ornaments and it will be just like the real thing.”

But my daughters tell me that there is no way a fake tree will ever be like a real tree and unless I want to speed up their plans to move out of the house I had better bring home a tree that drops needles and oozes sap.

So I disengaged from the row of chemically created trees (“Caution: this product contains lead. Wash your hands after handling.”) to the green (in all senses of the word) trees in the nursery section of the store. Since I’m going to be wrangling the tree into the back of the car by myself, I plan to take it home still wrapped in twine. It’s pretty much impossible to tell the shape of the tree when it’s compressed into a one foot in diameter bundle, so I walked along the row of identical trees looking for volunteers. As soon as I spotted one with a straight top and not too stubby trunk that seemed to be looking for a good home, I flopped it on the cart and was on my way.

When I pulled into the driveway, my 19 year old son, Ethan, was the only one home so he grudgingly agreed to help me. “Mom, I have to go to work.” “Yes,” I replied, “In five hours from now. So give me a hand for a few minutes to get the tree into the house and put it into the stand.”

While we were setting it up, we reminisced and laughed about the year we had a fresh-cut long-needled Monterey Pine for our Christmas tree and one of our cats persisted in eating the needles and then redepositing them back on the carpet for me to clean up”¦practically hourly. Then Ethan snipped the twine and we watched the branches spring out and about a pound of needles drop to the floor. I didn’t mind; I had gotten a tree with a beautiful shape. At that point, he took over and started directing me about what direction to rotate it so its best side showed to the room. Those 20 minutes of mother-son bonding”¦priceless.

The next day, my daughters and I launched into getting out the decorations for the house, and the lights and ornaments for the tree. In the course of unpacking the pinwheel (one of those wooden pyramid-shaped decorations that when the candles on the bottom burn the windmill at the top spins), Jennifer started unwrapping a bundle of brown paper that was in the box. “Don’t bother unwrapping that, it’s just packing material,” I said.

By the time I finished saying it, she had the layer of brown paper peeled off and discovered that it was covering several sections of a Chinese newspaper. So much for my pinwheel’s authentic German pedigree. The only writing we could decipher was “1988” at the top of every page. That was year that I had purchased it from some long-since forgotten catalogue.

Jennifer and Valerie felt like they had been on an archeological dig uncovering an artifact from a different era and culture. They spent the next 15 minutes pouring over the pages to see if there was anything else they could recognize and then divided the pages of the newspaper between themselves to add to their stash of treasures in their rooms. We had fun thinking about making our own little time capsule by adding a page from our newspaper each year when we wrap up the pinwheel for storage.

We haven’t even gotten the ornaments on it and already the tree has been a source of joy for the season. And if a strand of lights goes out”¦it will still be a beautiful tree.

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