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Oh Christmas Tree: a branch-by-branch guide

Updated on July 13, 2012
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Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

For those who celebrate the holiday, the Christmas tree ("tree") ranks right up there with gifts, eggnog, and sugar cookies as a must-have tradition. In fact, I would venture to say the Christmas tree is the most recognizable Christmas symbol, second only to the baby Jesus in the manger and Santa Claus and Rudolph.

Note that this is not a hub that analyzes people's personalities based on their Christmas trees -- although that could be fun. No, this is just your basic Mighty Mom spout-out on the general topic of Christmas trees. For those of you unfamiliar with my hubs, a spout-out is nothing more than a bunch of random observations (not to be confused with a MM rant, which is a spout-out with attitude ).

There's a pine tree in my living room

First off, I feel compelled to comment on the very fact of Christmas trees. Think about it. Once a year people all around the world (or at least in Christian countries) spend the month of December engaging in the same arboreal ritual. They bring a live pine tree inside their homes and hang decorations and lights on its branches. Is it me, or is that a rather bizarre thing to do? And yet, the tradition continues and continues...

As universal as it is, it is also intensely personal.

Origins of the Christmas Tree

Many of us assume Christmas trees are secular or non-religious symbols. But this is not the case.

In the 7th Century a monk from England went to Germany to teach the word of God. According to legend, the monk used the triangular shape of the fir tree to explain the Holy Trinity of God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted Christians began to revere the fir gree as God's tree, as they had previously revered the oak. By the 12th century the upside-down Christmas tree was hung in households throughout Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.

The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510.

First decision: Artificial or real?

Growing up, my family had an artificial tree. This being the 1960s, the tree was roughly the artificial tree equivalent of saccharine, which is to say, very very rudimentary.

The reason we had an artificial tree is that my father insisted. Whatever Mom's wishes may have been, Dad got to call this one. You see, his father had been a career firefighter and had been called out to too many fires started by dessicated Christmas trees.

As kids, we knew that our tree was "different" from our friends'. But hey, as long as there were presents underneath, we didn't care all that much. At some point Dad broke down and allowed a real tree. This was a big turning point in our holiday. I've been a "real tree gal" ever since.

Second decision: Where to get the tree?

Ok, so you've decided on a real tree. Where are you going to buy it?

Have you ever noticed that in movies, characters always buy their trees from a tree lot? It's usually snowing, or at least frosty cold. The lot keeper has a big drum of something burning to keep customers warm. Oftentimes Santa hangs out there, too.

It's always a cozy, Norman Rockwell-esque scene. But does it reflect true tree-buying consumer behavior? I bet an equal (or greater) number of people get their trees from Home Depot or Target. It's convenient. And, most would argue, cheaper.

But for those purists among us, the only way to go is to cut your own tree. Now I don't mean just "cut a tree" -- it's illegal to simply find a tree out in any old forest and cut it -- although here in California you can purchase a permit and do just that.

Most tree cutters frequent places called "Christmas tree farms." I don't know who came up with that term, as one would expect it to be a Christmas tree "orchard"  or "Christmas tree forest." but it's not. It's Christmas tree farm. Whatever. Deal with it.

Noble Fir
Noble Fir
Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir

You and Your Tree

Do you celebrate the season with a Christmas tree?

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Third decision: To Doug or not to Doug?

You may not be able to recall the name of your favorite Christmas tree type, but I bet you'll recognize it when you see it. Personal taste definitely comes into play when choosing a Noble Fir vs. a Scotch Pine vs. a Blue Spruce... or one of a half-dozen other varieties.

Factors influencing the decision include:

a)  longevity (how quickly will the tree become dry and brittle)

b) droppage (do the needles stay on as they dry, or require you to vacuum once an hour)

c) branch shape

d) overall fullness

d) overall tree shape, and

e) decoratability

Seriously. That's decoratability is a major consideration. Some Christmas trees have droopy branches that simply cannot support the weight of heavy ornaments. So when picking your tree, consider the ornaments you will be hanging!

As an example, last year Hubby and I chose our standard Noble Fir. We selected a 6-7' tree. We raised it up on a pedestal to fill the room vertically. Sure, we could have bought a 9' tree, but trees are sold by the foot, and the taller trees were a lot more expensive.

We had of course taken precautions to keep any keepsake breakables up above cats-eye level. Nonetheless, on Christmas morning I heard a muffled crash. I looked in the living room to see the tree toppled off its perch, lying prone on the floor. I immediately knew the culprit: Our new kitten, Jimmy!

This year, one of our key criteria was a tree that Jimmy, now a year older and about 12 lbs heavier, couldn't knock over. We picked a giant, pear-shaped Pacific Redwood. The tree is massive and, we are (reasonably) confident, Jimmy proof.

We also traded in Home Depot for a Christmas tree farm. The coolest things about that experience were

a) Being handed a saw ("Here's your weapon!" said the attendant) and

b) the fact that all trees cost the same. So for $35 we got a humongo tree that would have been well over $100 anywhere else.

It was easier than I expected to find clown ornaments. Now that's scary!
It was easier than I expected to find clown ornaments. Now that's scary!

Fourth decision: Décor vs. decorations

We've all seen them: theme trees. Department stores, hotel lobbies and other public places are rife with them. Décor trees look like they've been done by a decorator. Probably because they are done by a decorator!

These trees are always dramatic and often monochromatic.For example, all-white lights, ornaments and garland, or everything in shades of silver and blue. Or they may be decorated with thematic ornaments such as only angels, birds, fruit, instruments, snoweshoes or clowns. Yes, folks, as strange as it sounds, I guarantee you somehow, somewhere, there is a Christmas tree decorated with nothing but clowns!

At the other end of the spectrum, the "home-decorated" tree is free-form and unstructured in its decorating scheme. You'll recognize this type of tree by the hand-made ornaments from Johnny's first grade class, as well as hand-me-downs from Mom & Dad and Grandma & Grandpa's trees of yore. There is no "scheme" per se, except that the ornaments have personal/family meaning. This is by and large the way most people decorate their trees. They pack away and then unpack the same box of ornaments year in and year out to create a family tradition.


Be sure to recycle your tree1
Be sure to recycle your tree1

Fifth and final decision: Takedown

Once the tree's decorated, there's really nothing to do but keep it hydrated with water and sit back and admire it. That is, unless you have a rambunctious little Jimmy running around, in which case you'll want to keep a close eye on both the pet and your tree.

A fresh tree should easily last through the holiday season. It's customary to leave the tree up through Epiphany, January 6th, That's the day the three kings arrived at the manger and bestowed their gifts on Jesus, who (I presume) was still laying there wrapped in his swaddling clothes.

Now there are those who have the tree completely de-ornamented and out the door by nightfall on Christmas Day. I think we all know people like that (I believe the word is anal-retentive).

The majority of people get rid of their tree "sometime in January." After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the thought of un-trimming the tree and repacking the ornaments (not to mention oh-so-carefully winding up strand upon strand of lights) can be overwhelming. No wonder people put it off. And off. And off.

Still, you don't want to be the last one on the block. You know the one, the neighbor with the rust-brown, dry-beyond-aridity, needle-less tree laying patethetically in their gutter on April Fool's Day.

Having a live, lit tree in your living room is an odd, yet delightful custom.

Having it still around dead and discolored 3-4 months later, well that's just plain weird!

The Classic Christmas Tree Quest


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