Real or artificial? When it comes to Christmas trees, this is an ongoing and contentious debate. I’m a hard-core proponent of the artificial tree for the following reasons:
Some assembly required
Not much appeals more to an engineer than the opportunity to assemble something, especially when it comes in kit form and is guaranteed to go together smoothly! Modular construction – sweet! IKEA furniture looks like IKEA furniture, it’s true, but man is it fun to put together! Assembling a Christmas tree could only be better if some special tools were required.
The first family tree consisted of a green wooden pole and individual branches. Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of Dad bringing out that great big box and letting us help sort out the branches. The branches were colour-coded with a little bit of paint at the base of the stem. Trying to differentiate between ‘red’ and ‘copper’ was a challenge I looked forward to each year. Later, my siblings and I were allowed to drag the box out of the crawlspace and assemble the tree by ourselves. This was probably a greater privilege than being able to use the car. My parents might still be using that tree if the crawlspace hadn’t flooded, turning the box to pulp and making a mess of the tree.
Unfortunately, Christmas tree design has advanced considerably and the tree I obtained for my first house is an umbrella style. It does have three sections, but most of the thrill of assembly has been removed. I am left to admire this improvement and wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days when I had to install each individual branch. Almost makes me with I had grandkids to tell the story to.
Déjà vu all over again
Engineers love standards. An artificial tree has wonderfully uniform dimensions. It’s always the same height and width as it was last year and the year before and the year before that, so I never have to worry about whether it will fit in the door or fill the room appropriately. I can’t imagine trying to evaluate one of those tightly wound real trees it its fish net bag to determine if it were the correct size and shape. An artificial tree has no good side or bad side, so it doesn’t matter how I put it up. I know precisely where to place the base every year in order to have sufficient clearance on all sides for the ladder.
I also know there is room for all of our decorations, no more, no less. Wouldn’t it be sad if some of your ornaments wouldn’t fit on the tree and had to remain in their boxes? What a tragedy! Or worse, if you didn’t have enough and had to buy more at pre-Christmas prices?
I also know exactly how many lights are required. This is causing me some stress as I make the switch to LED’s – those strings are a different length, so how many will I need? You can understand I’m losing sleep over this. These days, you can get an umbrella-style tree with the lights built in. That’s progress! Yes, you lose the thrill of assembly mentioned above, but hassles are reduced even more, as discussed below. Again, it would be useful to have grandkids so I could tell them how good they have it these days.
No needles to clean up! That’s such a huge benefit, I get to say it again: no needles to clean up!
Having managed to get my tree home in the car once, which required a highly questionable cargo and passenger configuration, I never have to do it again. I could even have had it delivered, which is not a very common option for real trees. I don’t have to worry about selecting the perfect tree and strapping it to my perfect car roof, only to have both of them become somewhat less than perfect during the ride home – every year.
Around these parts, one can obtain a very cheap permit to cut one’s own tree. Does that sound good to you? If so, are you a masochist or just a rugged outdoorsperson? Maybe those are the same thing. Sing it with me: “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay!” Anyway, I don’t need to go tramping off into the snowy woods in search of the perfect natural tree in its native environment…and then ruthlessly hack it down. Then I don’t need to somehow drag it back to the vehicle and transport it home (likely along the highway, for you’d need to travel out of town to get to the forest) without damaging it.
“Smoke on the water, fire in the sky” should be a lyric, not a headline
This is The Big One, the reason that trumps all others. I’m no Boy Scout (I mean that in the literal sense – I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Boy Scouts or any similar outdoor camping or survival organization), but I know kindling when I see it. Back in the days of my youth, when it was not considered a mortal sin to dispose of real Christmas trees by burning them, I witnessed how quickly flame engulfed them. If you are too young to have seen this or just had a sheltered childhood, Mythbusters lit one up a few years ago that you can occasionally catch on re-runs, and of course you can find many videos on-line.
They should provide a bag of marshmallows and some sharp sticks with every real Christmas tree, so you can have a little snack while you’re waiting for the fire department to douse the smouldering embers of what used to be your home. I’m not having one of those things in my house!
Real Christmas tree fanatics will counter with a couple of points, so I will have to address them here:
The original Christmas trees were actual trees. Sure, but they didn’t have engineered polymers or even indoor plumbing, and cows could kick over lanterns and burn whole cities down. And they had The Plague, too. Do you miss The Plague? If you live in a stone castle or even a sod hut, then you’ll probably want a real tree, but if you’re that much of a traditionalist, you shouldn’t be on the Internet reading blogs, should you?
The real tree fanatics maintain that part of the appeal of a Christmas tree is to fill the house with a pine scent (unless it’s a fir tree, of course). I just want to point out that cleaning with Pine-Sol will give you the same effect all year round (unless you get the lavender-scented kind, of course). I have no argument with the pine scent of a real tree; it’s the potential for a smoky scent I wish to avoid.
From an environmental standpoint, ironically it appears that cutting down a tree may be less harmful when all factors are considered. I admit that, on this basis, a real tree does appeal to my sense of humour: “Hey, why are you cutting down that tree?” “Well, to save the environment, of course!” In my defence, I’ll contend that’s only if it doesn’t burn your house down. But Christmas in conventional form is never going to win any points from a true environmentalist – it just creates too much waste and uses too much energy – so nobody’s going to win the Christmas tree debate on environmental terms.
At Christmastime, they say it’s the thought that counts, so while I’m assembling my clean, predictable, and safer artificial tree in my cozy living room, I’ll be thinking of you real tree fanatics tramping around in the frozen woods or scratching up your car roof. And I know we’ll both be happy, which is what the season is all about, so Merry Christmas!