Christmas Trees: Real vs. Artificial

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, if you're not sweeping up pine needles on New Year's Eve, you've cheated the holiday. From Charlie Brown's limp, self-reflective, one-limb half-tree to Clark Griswold's towering, sap-dripping squirrel trap, a Christmas tree -- born of Mother Earth -- has centered our holiday festivities (even the fictional variety) since blade first met bark. Raising, trimming, and presenting a proper tree -- be it fir, pine, cypress, or spruce -- is a challenge, and it can be messy, folks. But with that jolly elf traveling thousands of miles through the winter night to deliver the gift under your Christmas tree, the least you can do is put some sweat and energy behind your living room's centerpiece.

For the truly ambitious -- the Griswolds of this world -- bringing home a live tree isn't enough. Each and every December, my in-laws trek through the section of Vermont wilderness they call their own and cut down their seasonal prize. Right here in Memphis, there are Christmas tree farms you can visit to do the same. And for the closet hunter-gatherers out there -- manhood validated whenever saw is gripped by gloved hand -- this is your chance to take the holidays and, yes, make them your own.

The ironic joy of bringing home a real tree is the insecurity of the enterprise. Will it fit on the roof of your car? Can the twine possibly hold? What about the trunk? Which door should we drag it through? It's not too tall, is it? But when you have the tree home, in the door, and -- fingers crossed, breath held -- secured in its long-awaiting stand, well, euphoria.

It's been said that any tree would gladly give its life for the glory of becoming a baseball bat. The same is exponentially true for a Christmas tree. Ornaments you remember from your childhood, some newly created by little Sue or Junior, candy canes hung top to bottom, a peppermint treat within reach on every pass. And the scent! A living room with a Christmas tree -- a real tree -- is a multisensory reminder that the holidays are here, good cheer to be had by all.

Now, where did I leave my saw?

-- Frank Murtaugh

Fake, artificial -- both are ugly words with tacky connotations. But let's face it, the world is full of fabricated goods that change our lives for the better: Hair color (hallelujah!), artificial hearts (amen!), and yes, fake Christmas trees.

True, visiting a tree nursery on a brisk starry night does have its wintry appeal. I enjoyed it myself once upon a time -- till the thought of each specimen slashed to a stub began to tug at my tree-loving heart. That once-living beauty would grace a home for a brief time, then get dumped on the curb in a humiliating heap. Few sadder sights exist than a discarded Christmas tree.

But okay, I admit it: My preference for artificial trees goes beyond my green concerns. Bottom line: They're easy, folks. Especially those with their own little lights. I mean, holidays can be hard enough without the hassle of selecting a tree, tying it onto the car, hauling it home, getting it up, and then -- a curse upon every one of the hateful things I ever yanked in fury -- untangling those fiendish light cords and stringing them 'round the tree limbs. (Just what they deserve: to be "strung up.") Then comes watering the tree, vacuuming its shedding needles, and shooing away pets who might want to climb it -- or worse.

Now, an artificial tree that comes with tiny light bulbs attached, that's another story: We take that baby out of its box, put it together in a few easy steps, position it in front of the window, tweak its limbs here and there, flip the switch, and voila, we've got instant holiday joy. And our cats seem to know their claws won't penetrate this bark.

Not that our tree will make the cover of any magazine; it's a bit too narrow, too perfectly shaped. But once we've hung the ornaments -- all of which we cherish, not only for their beauty but the memories they trigger -- we gaze in wonder and smile in satisfaction. And when Christmas is over, the tree is back in its box, not languishing on the curb, a used-up symbol of mankind's waste.

Now, I could go off on white lights versus colored ones. Believe me, I take a stand on that. But for now I'll enjoy my imitation tree -- and hope you recycle your real one. -- Marilyn Sadler

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