Lies, Damn Lies, and Fake Christmas Trees

We finally did it, gentle reader, bought our first (and last?) artificial Christmas tree. There she stands at an impressive nine-point-five feet, all aglow with baked-in lights, and strewn with garland and all our favorite ornaments.

Right off the bat, let me just say we miss that fragrance, you know the one. Thus far we’ve tried burning a scented candle to compensate, but because we are obnoxious penny pinchers, have spent only two bucks and change for a teeny Balsam Fir-scented votive we picked up at the grocery. We burned it last night for the couple of hours we were watching Miracle on 34th Street (not The Chef’s favorite but he is a good man and humored me), and it sure smelled nice. Nothing like a live Christmas tree though. I’ve yet to go all out and plunk down a ton of cash (remember, we’re talking candles here) for a quality candle. But if we do, I’m inclined to go this route based solely on the name of the product. A coworker sent me the link, a shameless plug for a friend’s line of candles. That’s twenty bucks for a dang candle. Or about what we once could spend on a Reasonably Good live Christmas tree (remember those days?).

Honestly, not in recent memory have I spent as little as twenty bucks for a live tree, so that was a damn lie. But the Chef and I once found a nice-looking tree at a local corner store in downtown Bennington, Vermont for twenty-five; it started dropping needles a minute after we brought it inside. Fire hazard through and through. The next year we started going to a rural nursery in the area for a cut-your-own, fifty bucks. At least every tree in the field cost the same, so you could shop around for the bestest one. We stuck with that plan for the duration of our tenure in Vermont, even though it pained us to spend that much.

Then a pandemic came calling, and a war in Ukraine, and you know the rest of the story.

Last year we celebrated our first Christmas in our new North Carolina hometown of Wilmington, and paid (cough) more than fifty for a lesser tree, and offered the friendly helpers a generous tip. (This is another thing that pains The Chef, to shove a twenty into somebody’s gloved hand for just doing their job, but I like to remind him this is big money for those folks, who have nothing, so put a sock in it.)

This year, we hemmed and hawed a little before finally agreeing, with the way things are going in the domain of live Christmas trees these days, maybe it was time to just bite the bullet and go full-on fake. So we trudged on down to a local Big Box Retailer and in short order found a nice, tall tree (hooray for cathedral ceilings), that was still reasonably narrow. Our living space has all that lovely volume going up, up, up, but the down, down, down part of it is a bit tight, so we needed skinny. The one we chose was most likely a leftover from last year’s inventory and had been marked down to just a smidge over $200. We reasoned this tree would “pay for itself” in a couple of Christmases (that is also possibly a lie). I sat on the box whilst David fetched a helper, and about a half hour later, Voilà! Our first fake tree was assembled and all lit up like a…you know.

The Modern American Fake Fir is impressively easy to put together, unlike the one my family had when I was growing up in Memphis. I told David all about it, the unboxing of the wood dowels that served as the trunk, and then my dad sitting there pulling out every. single. limb. one by one, while matching each color-coded tip to the corresponding color-coded opening in the tree trunk. They were cut on an angle to articulate “easily” with each opening in the dowel, but of course did not, and so one had to fuss and argue to achieve that satisfying thud that suggested the branch was correctly seated inside the hole. And with each passing year, a little more of the colored paint wore off, so the entire assembling process grew more onerous, evolved into a guessing game of sorts.

Not this tree, though. We opened the box to find three discrete sections that snap right into each other. The wiring is cleverly hidden in the trunk, which is all wrapped in the same fake foliage as the rest of the tree, so it really just disappears. In the bottom of the box we found a plastic bag full of replacement bulbs, at once reassuring and a little concerning: On the one hand, looks like you can replace individual bulbs, but on the other, maybe they’re prone to burning out. Time will tell.

As for the environmental bit, I don’t know. Seems like a live tree is probably the more planet-friendly option. Because eventually our fake tree will give up the ghost, and what then? Is it recyclable? My guess is, nope, unless recycling tech is more sophisticated by then. Okay, so maybe.

Meanwhile, I do love the convenience of flipping a switch on the wall to light up the tree. And it is fodder for endless jokes (“Did you remember to water the tree, darling?”). There is also the bit about pine needles…nothing to sweep or vacuum off the floor. It looks lovely, too—you honestly can’t tell it’s a fake unless you scrutinize it (might be a little white lie). We did make a few rookie mistakes. For the topmost section, a smart person would have “fluffed” out and arranged the branches, including the pointy top, before climbing high up onto the ladder to attach it. And a smart person also would have attached the star at this same moment, a lovely Capiz shell star that requires all kinds of wrestling and cussing every year to make it stand up straight and true. This year it’s rigged with a threesome of bamboo skewers taped together, hidden by a shimmering red bow. Does the trick nicely.

It’s just, the tradition of a real tree, and the routine of the getting of it, I suppose, still make me question this fake tree thing a little. I explained to The Chef, in my erstwhile life in Knoxville during in my first marriage, tree-getting was a big deal, an occasion. Admittedly, it was tied mainly to the little person in our household, who delighted in weaving in and out of the rows of trees at the local nursery before squealing, THIS one! We stood outside in the parking lot, usually after nightfall, sipping hot cider while a young man trimmed the trunk to our liking and then wrapped the tree cocoon-style in its red plastic net and hefted it up onto the car. While the tree was being secured to the car with rope, we usually shopped around inside the store for a little while and bought another string of lights or box of ornaments before we settled up. I always kept the extra boughs and made them into something pretty for the front door. We bought fresh garland and I threaded it around and around the banister on the stairs inside our house and then polished and attached silver baby cups to it (because what on earth else do you do with the silver baby cups everybody gives you at a baby shower). Mission accomplished, and the house looked all Christmas-y and smelled divine.

I’m glad I gave my kiddo those memories to hang onto, but even he has gone the way of the fake in his own house. Last year I handed him a box full of ornaments—all those ornaments I gave him, one each Christmas—I’d been keeping safe for him until the right moment, and it finally arrived. This year I threw some extras and a tree topper his way. And joined the fake tree club with him. So, we’ll all lie to ourselves from now on, I guess, while we enjoy this distinctly pagan tradition in a distinctly unnatural way.

Before I go, here is a little post-Thanksgiving followup. As I mentioned in my last post, Chef David managed to score our turkey for a paltry $3.43. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say he timed his visit to the grocery store wisely. (Also, I would like to point out our votive candle cost almost as much as our Thanksgiving turkey.) Here is what that $3.43 yielded, together with a few other ingredients:

*A roasted turkey that made an exquisite dinner for three

*Countless turkey and cranberry sandwiches made on various home-baked breads

*Wild rice stir fry with turkey, veg, and peanut satay sauce for dinner and followup lunches, and

*A giant tub of rich turkey broth from vegetables and the rendered carcass, from which we made one large batch of turkey and vegetable soup, and another batch of cream of refrigerator soup that included ginger marmalade chicken leftovers.

Not bad for a $3.43 bird. And that is no lie.

One thought on “Lies, Damn Lies, and Fake Christmas Trees

  1. No shame in a fake tree – and the clean up is so much easier! I always found sap spots on the floor and needles everywhere – for not months but years! Your turkey bargain was the gift that kept giving!


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