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Christmas tree lighting. December 14, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Today, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood finally set up our Christmas tree. (We tend to take our time getting decorated, since we wait a good month or more after Christmas before taking our decorations down.) And thus begins one of our most cherished Christmas traditions: the lighting of the tree.

We confess, we’re not talking about some august ritual where we light candles on the tree or anything. We just plug in the tiny white Christmas lights and set our tree ablaze.

Doesn’t everybody do that, you might ask. What’s so special about it?

What makes it special to us is that we don’t decorate the tree for another week after we light it. Instead, we enjoy the beautiful simplicity of white lights against green foliage, perfect just as it is.

Of course, eventually we always succumb and hang our beloved ornaments and garlands on the tree, many hand-made, many antique, many with layers of memory because of the giver or maker or history. Our tree will become rich with color, meaning, and magic.

But always, we love the time spent with the simple lighted tree. For looking up through its starry branches, we can imagine a child seeing the starry night sky through a veil of branches, in a manger long ago…

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How do you feel about artificial trees? December 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben grew up in a world where you bought a fresh-cut Christmas tree every year and that was that. My parents would have died a thousand deaths before admitting an artificial tree into our family home. Come to think of it, they’d probably die a thousand deaths if they were transported to our home, Hawk’s Haven, and forced to behold our “psychoactive” Christmas tree, which has fiber-optic branch tips and fiber-optic bulb lights that glow in an ever-changing light show of jewel tones.

I’ve been pondering the whole artificial tree issue this year for three reasons. First, when Silence Dogood and I were in Nashville for Thanksgiving, we saw people practically trampling each other to buy those vintage silver-foil trees in antiques stores. These were expensive trees and very well-heeled shoppers partaking of the stampede, let me tell you, but for one horrifying moment we thought we’d ended up in Wal-Mart by mistake.

Speaking of well-heeled shoppers brings our friend Ben to my second reason: As artificial trees have gained acceptance and become more realistic, their price has risen accordingly. We don’t know what they look like in person, but we’re awed by the photos of majestic, pre-lit trees we see in catalogues now. And even more awed by the attached price tags, which can reach over $1,000 for a really huge, super-realistic tree. Mind you, the cost of a fresh-cut tree has risen along with everything else, and people might reasonably conclude that a one-time investment in a quality artificial tree that will look good forever and never shed needles is well worth it. But whew!

The third reason returned to mind when our friend Ben read a comment by Nancy Bond of Soliloquy (http://nancybond.wordpress.com/) in which she mentioned that her daughter was allergic to Christmas trees. We hadn’t realized that this was possible until we met our friend Nan, who also has a Christmas-tree allergy. Maybe lots of people do. We think this is a tragedy, since nothing on earth smells like fresh pine and balsam fir. But it’s certainly an excellent reason to opt for an artificial tree!

By now you may be wondering why, if we love fresh trees so much, we have our psychoactive tree instead. One word: cats. No ornament was safe from their depradations. We were constantly terrified that they’d drink the Christmas-tree water and die. And then there was the year that our enormous Maine coon male, Seamus Beaumaine, pulled the entire tree over. We tried a Norfolk Island pine, but not only is it not the same, the cats still attacked it and the ornaments. It was the cats or the trees, and the cats won. Mercifully, they ignore the psychoactive tree. And yes, we have heard of people who string their tree up every year, attaching it to a hook in the ceiling to prevent turnovers. But frankly, we can’t see it.

We console ourselves by hanging a very fresh and very fragrant wreath on our front door and taking long breaths of evergreen whenever we go in or out. And last year, we were thrilled when our friend Carolyn gave us a fresh-cut tree. We set it up on our deck, wrapped it with tiny white lights and unbreakable ornaments, and enjoyed it well into January. Another option is to create an outdoor “bird tree,” but we’ll let our friend and blog collaborator Richard Saunders tell you about that in a future post.

Okay, now it’s your turn to vote. Here, as I see it, are the high and low points of each option:

Artificial trees. On the plus side, artificial trees are more realistic and easier to assemble now than ever before. The pre-lit trees have lovely sparkling lights plentifully distributed evenly over the entire tree—no more awkward gaps or clusters of lights and then huge bare spots. A well-made artificial tree should last a lifetime, so you only have to buy one. And you’ll never have to deal with dropped needles, changing water, and the rest of the real-tree mess. On the minus side, some trees are, shall we say, more realistic-looking than others. (Of course, some, like those coveted tinsel trees and bottle-brush trees, are supposed to look fake. That’s the whole point.) You have to find room to store the tree. There’s the whole price thing. And you’ll never enjoy that evergreen smell.

Fresh-cut trees. The benefit here is a fresh, fragrant tree that harks back to the reason Christmas trees became traditional in the first place: In the dead of winter, their evergreen branches were a symbol of eternal life, and thus came to symbolize the eternal life that believers gained through the birth of Christ. Nothing on earth smells as good as a fresh Christmas tree. On the down side, nothing on earth looks as sad as a Christmas tree, which had been loved and cherished only minutes before, set out unceremoniously at the curb for the trash truck. Our friend Ben finds this a waste and a crime, a sorry symbol of our whole throwaway mentality. I say, put that tree out in a discreet part of the yard for the birds to shelter in ’til spring, then chip it into mulch or saw it up and burn it. Other negatives are the messiness and, as we’ve seen, potential allergies. Not to mention that you have to buy a new one every year.

Live trees. You may be thinking that our friend Ben has forgotten the live-tree option, but not so. I like the idea of live trees, but the reality is often much more complicated. First, the trees that make the best Christmas trees are not always suited to your climate, so they might make poor yard trees or even die where you live. Second, you should keep a live tree in artificially warm household conditions for as short a time as possible—certainly no more than a week. I don’t know about you, but we like to keep our tree up through December and into January. (We finally and very reluctantly take it down on Epiphany.) Third, unless you live in a very mild climate where the ground never freezes and you can plant your Christmas tree right away, you have to somehow keep it alive until you can plant it in spring. Some people dig a hole for the tree before the ground freezes, then set it in the ground, burlap ball and all, and mulch it super-well until spring, but this is not a happy solution. Neither is keeping it in a cold, brightly lit garage and keeping the rootball from drying out for lo those many months until you can plant it. Not to mention the little problem of finding space for all the Christmas trees to come.

In short, every option has its pros and cons. What’s your choice?