Last weekend I drove through my small town, past the festive lot next to the firehouse filled with rows of Christmas trees for sale and families wandering through, circling this one or that in search of just the right one. I stopped at our fancy local market to pick up the week’s supply of turkey and ham – and of course, the fresh mozzarella, because isn’t that what all the 13yos require on their school lunches? – and watched as a line of giant SUVs drove past with their trees bound and gagged and strapped to the top.
And as I drove home with my bag of cold cuts and very expensive cheese thought, “Those poor suckers.”
Then my daughter and I went down to the basement and opened some big boxes and dragged a bunch of branches up the stairs and in about 30 minutes had three Christmas trees up and lit in various rooms throughout the house.
“Man, that was easy,” I said to my daughter, who just kind of stared back at me.
At 5 feet 9 inches, she’s not that much shorter than my former husband and now finds herself handling many of the same tasks that her father used to perform when he lived here. She can reach things off high shelves and open pickle jars and when we assembled our fake Christmas trees she did a lot of the heavy lifting, unfortunately while wearing a t-shirt and running shorts. As such, her limbs were kind of covered in nicks and scrapes from lugging big sections of tree limbs around the house.
“I’m glad this was so easy for you,” she answered, examining her thigh, and I got the feeling she was a little annoyed with me and my alleged obliviousness to her suffering.
I, on the other hand, was thrilled with our faux tree setup.
Historically, the hunting and the buying and the lighting and the decorating and the watering and the vacuuming up of the needles of Christmas trees of long ago has been one giant pain in the neck. In theory, it is a lovely tradition that brings a family closer together, creating lasting memories to warm us in our old age. The reality of the Christmas tree, at least in my experience, has been something different altogether.
When I was married I found going to the lot to buy the tree incredibly stressful. Invariably, we would wait until the last minute to procure our tree and by then, all of you bastards had already scooped up all the good ones. What remained standing sadly in the lot would have that Charlie Brown-like quality, with giant bald spots where branches should have been or needles that would quickly fall to the floor like a too-long cigarette ash whenever you walked too near.
But the biggest issue was the price. Whatever it was, it was way too much, according to my husband and caused him undue aggravation. And of course, me being me, I wanted the bigger one or what I perceived to be the nicer one and he’d relent but then slip into an icy mood. We’d drive home in silence and he’d drag the prize in after sawing off probably one or two too many branches from the bottom. He’d shove it in a stand and curse when it listed to the side and I’d bite my tongue as the results of all that aggressive sawing became clear from the divot that appeared on one side, much like a child who’d taken a scissor to her own bangs.
And then there were the tree lights. Has there ever been one person in the history of the world who really enjoys stringing lights on a Christmas tree? No one in their right mind could actually enjoy pulling the lights out from their box in the attic and untangling each strand to discover only half the bulbs would light. Who likes playing Christmas light detective and having to pull out each bulb in the strand and replacing with a working bulb to see if it was the bugger causing all the issues? Probably in my, like, over 20 years dealing with Christmas lights maybe five times did I find the culprit.
So if my then husband wasn’t pissed enough about the price of the tree, the broken lights would push him over the edge and the decorating of the tree would be a tense affair. I wanted things to look just-so and he just wanted to get the job done and I don’t really remember it being the Hallmark moment I so wanted it to be. We were way more invested in standing our ground rather than making concessions for the good of the team.
Eventually, I started edging him out of the more stressful jobs surrounding the Christmas tree. I started going to the fancy market in town right after Thanksgiving with my $10 off coupon to pick the tree out myself and had one of the nice workers strap it to the top of my car for the two-minute drive home. I also invested in an amazing tree stand. And finally, because I had very definite ideas about how Christmas tree lights should look on a tree – not merely wrapped around the ends of the branches but up and down each limb so it required many strands and patience and sometimes, electrical skills — I started doing that all myself. But it always pleased me afterwards to come down the stairs each morning and turn on the tree’s lights. I’d stand in the darkened family room and see the colorful bulbs shining deep under all the shiny ornaments and popsicle stick keepsakes the kids had hung from the tree.
So when my ex husband moved out right before Christmas that one, terrible year, I already had a pretty good handle on the tree situation. All I really had to figure out was how to get the tree off the top of the car and into a bucket of water in my garage. And eventually, I’d have a kid or two help me haul it into the house and hoist it up and into the stand. We actually got quite good at it.
But this year I said good-bye to all that. I decided I no longer wanted to be a slave to some $100 dead tree. Dragging it. Lighting it. Watering it. Cleaning up after it.
At the end of last year I bought a pre-lit tree off Overstock.com that had been already vetted by my youngest sister who is like a walking Consumer Reports. She bought it and liked it and thought it was a good price so I did the same.
And then I was at Costco a few weeks ago and another faux tree caught my eye and after quick texting with my sister – who gave it the thumbs up after quickly Googling it to discover it was cheaper than the Home Depot version and came with more lights – bought that one for another room in the house. I mean, it has a remote control people and the lights switch from white to colored (the other tree does the same and even blinks if that’s your thing).
My sister and mom have been hot for fake trees for a couple of years but it took me a while to relent. Honestly, I’m wired to like a lot of the same things they do but sometimes my mother’s enthusiasm – nay, pushiness – about certain things make me want to run in the other direction.
But, just like the time she suggested I pack a raincoat to go camping with the Girl Scouts but I knew better and spent the weekend wet and miserable, my mother happened to be right about the trees. Phony is better.
Our final fake tree is a skinny number I bought a couple of years ago from Balsam Hill that’s perfect in a corner of my kitchen. It smells kinda weird but I don’t have to sit too close to it when I eat so it still works and brings that Christmas sparkle into the room where I probably spend the most time.
None of the trees are decorated yet but I love seeing the lights glowing through the window when I pull into the driveway. And I still like to turn all the trees’ lights on while my coffee is brewing in the morning. It makes everything seem a little more magical and I like to think that my children have grown up feeling the same.
My favorite Christmas tree was the one my new husband and I bought the day after we got home from our honeymoon. We were married 10 days before Christmas in 1990 and my bridesmaids wore green velvet dresses and while we were honeymooning in the Caribbean we drank sweet pina coladas and listened to a man on the steel drums play “Frosty the Snowman.” We returned home tanned and young and happy to our second-floor walkup in Hoboken on the 23rd and went out in search of a tree the next day.
There weren’t many trees left by Christmas Eve, but it didn’t matter. I even want to say they were half price, even better. We dragged it down the sidewalk home and up the two flights of stairs and shoved the fat thing through the door and screwed it into the metal stand. Somewhere we’d acquired a strand or two of lights and a package of pre-made red felt bows that I attached to the ends of some branches. Underneath we spread all our gifts, trinkets we’d brought home from our trip, wrapped in shiny green and red wrapping paper.
That night I made my new husband our first meal together as a married couple and tried to replicate a butternut squash soup we’d had on our honeymoon. But I must not have cooked the squash enough and then tried to pulverize it in our new blender and watched the cubes swirl round and round. Eventually I tried to push the squash down into the moving blades with a wooden spoon but only succeeded in adding wooden splinters from the spoon to the soup.
We sat in our darkened dining room and tried to eat the soup but eventually laughed and gave up and tried feeding it to the dog instead. But even that crazy mutt was smart enough to pass on the dish.
But even though it wasn’t perfect, the tree or the meal, I was happy. All I wanted was to be married to my husband and that was enough. It was better than perfect.
So that’s why I’m all about fake trees. They are not perfect but I have decided perfect is way overrated. They are, instead, enough.
Here’s a roundup of fake trees if, like me, you’re over watering and needles and ready to go faux.