What’s Your Christmas Tree?

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Human beings like different things for various reasons. Some people are Mets fans, while others root for the Yankees. Some prefer charcoal to gas when they barbecue, while others prefer dogs over cats. Earlier this summer, we found out through this column that most people enjoy both the South Shore and North Shore beaches of Long Island. But what about your Christmas Tree?

Are you the type of person who prefers the natural look, feel and aroma of a real Christmas Tree; or do you prefer the artificial, store-bought kind, that you can reuse year after year? Sounds like a simple question, but once you get married, this is a big decision. It ranks right up there with “Which side of the bed do you like to sleep on?” and “Are we going to have children?”

Your experiences as a child might influence your thinking as you approach your first Christmas together, but there are other mitigating factors involved. For instance, where are you living and how big of a space can you spare for about a month? Unless your family celebrates Christmas, you may not quite understand what all the hubbub is about.

Like my wife and I, most married people start out with a real tree. As newlyweds, chances are you don’t have an artificial tree in the basement yet. You probably don’t even have a basement.

The fantasy you see on TV of a happy family working together to select the perfect tree is not reality. Granted, there is something special about finding a great tree, but selecting your tree is just the beginning of your nightmare. Without a pick-up truck, you’ll need the help of a guy at the nursery to secure 7 feet and about 50 pounds of tree to the top of your car. Hope you don’t live on the second floor of a mother-daughter house, because Jimmy from the nursery isn’t in the back seat when you get home.

Leaving a trail of little green needles from the car to wherever this tree travels, you can almost see the finish line. Once inside the house, you will need to position it into the stand and hope you don’t have to perform any major reconstructive topiary to fit it into the spot you picked out.

Oh, but the beauty and aroma are breathtaking. It feels like Christmas. You can put whatever you want on it—artificial snow, tinsel, garland, colored spray paint. Your lights could blink, or not blink, be a single color, multiple colors or all white. By the time you are done trimming, it could pass for a Norman Rockwell painting.

One advantage of a real tree is that you just dispose of it after New Year’s. Of course, no matter how many times you refill the water in the stand, a dead tree in your living room is even deader a month later. You will be picking pine needles out of your toes until the spring.

At some point, people grow tired of the rigmarole that accompanies the real tree experience and opt for an artificial one to store in their basement for 48 weeks a year. An artificial tree is a reasonable facsimile of that real tree the Murray’s from down the block got at the nursery, and putting it together doesn’t require a PHD anymore. When you have finished all the trimmings, you still have your own Norman Rockwell painting.

With an artificial tree, most of the work is done for you, although you do need to spend some quality time when you set the tree up. You still need to assemble it, stand it up and get it into the stupid stand. And just like a real tree, they don’t always look straight. Wish I had a nickel for every time I asked someone in my family “if it looked straight.”

Most artificial trees today come pre-lit, with strings of lights embedded into the branches. Put together a few plugs and voila. No hassle, no haggling over price, no Advil for the pain.
The decision to tree, or not to tree, is a very personal one and there is no right or wrong answer, just like the decision to adopt a dog or a cat. For my family (and for my health), we tried it both ways and made the transition to artificial in 1989. Since then, we have had to replace that tree just once.

Once the Christmas ornaments have been carefully removed and packed away, you disassemble it and put it away back under the stairs. After all, by now you probably have a basement.

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