I’ve seen poll numbers that would make you shudder, suggesting that at Christmastime most of our countrymen opt for an artificial tree over a living one. From what I’ve read, it seems that many people are “tired” of trying to find the perfect tree each Christmas, “tired” of putting on the lights, “tired” of cleaning up the fallen needles. For the weary, it seems, heading out on a chilly December morn to a local tree farm to cut down a tree in the company of loved ones is just too much. Oh, well, let them rest – the more’s the pity for them.
What these exhausted people are missing out on is one of the most purely joyous, richly sensuous family experiences of the year, an invigorating and fragrant and diplomatic occasion that surely produces more conversation and laughter than the act of going up to an attic to dust off some plastic.
It is invigorating, of course, because the whole family wanders about a farm in chilly weather searching for just the right fir or spruce or pine, the cool air (as it always does!) adding excitement and a sense of grandeur to the day. It is fragrant, of course, due to the phenomenal aroma of those evergreen beauties, among the highlights being Northern New England’s native Balsam Fir. And if you must ask what is so diplomatic about harvesting one’s own Christmas tree, then surely you have never experienced the pleasure, for more vivid even than the refreshing late-autumn air and coniferous redolence is the endless negotiating that goes on amongst siblings (and parents, too) as to the relative merits of this or that tree, compared to the one over there by the pond or the one we saw 10 minutes ago farther down the hill.
For the proper Christmas tree must be just right. It must be suitable for the room it will be placed in (thus the frequent shouts of “Too short!” or “Too tall!”); it must be full across its middle (when someone exclaims “It’s missing half the middle!” you know you need to look for another); and it must be shapely: You’ll be living with this arboreal friend for several weeks, so you’ll want one that’s striking to the eye. If your family puts its tree against a wall (as mine does), then a tree with one poor side (perhaps it’s thin in the back) might still work absolutely fine. Although, as regards that bad side, remember my brother’s admonition: “You might not be able to see it, but you’ll know it’s there.” There’s a deep philosophy in all this.
Once the perfect tree has been found, one family member sprawls out on the ground and saws it down, the tree held up by someone else. Then the two of them – blissfully overwhelmed by delicious tree-smell – carry the tree out to be wrapped up. The family (at least if they’ve chosen Jones Family Farms in Shelton, CT) will then relax on haystacks, drinking hot apple cider surrounded by other ruddy-faced, happy families.
In short order the family will return home, trim the tree, bring it in, set it up straight, lay down the skirt, string up the lights, and put on the ornaments. The tree is a living thing, so it’ll require watering, and yes, the needles will fall – but mostly on the skirt, where they’ll look lovely, green against red.
We can live our lives in plastic bubbles, spared work and ever-rested. But wouldn’t you rather be a little bit tired, and a great bit happy?