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Oh Christmas Tree: a branch-by-branch guide

Updated on July 13, 2012
Mighty Mom profile image

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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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub on the history of decorating Christmas trees. My family have decorated a real tree for many years, up until a decade ago, when we moved and brought a fake one, which is more convenient to store every year and put up. This is a great guide and handy for every Christmas season.

    • Brian Weekes profile image

      Brian Weekes 

      9 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      Great hub. Here in Australia the most popular variety for a christmas tree is a pine, although the type will change depending where you live. In Tas, the branches are strong and the ends of each branch tip up, making a good place to hang ornaments. In warmer climates I have seen all sorts of trees used and even eucalypts of many varieties are popular. We used one once. It is interesting to have a christmas day with a eucalypt smell in the lounge instead of a pine smell! I come from Tasmania - which is the island of the giant trees. Almost all the native woodland has an upper canopy of giant trees with smaller trees underneath. Down the west coast the successive canopies are thicker to the extent that you can walk across the top and not realise you are walking along tops of intwinned trees!

    • li smith ion-eco profile image

      li smith ion-eco 

      10 years ago from Hermanus, South Africa

      Thank you for a great hub with wonderful ideas and images. I love the scent of a real pine tree!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great info or guide. Christmas trees play a significant role and not just for decorating. Please read

    • chilario1979 profile image


      11 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      nice hub! keep it up!

    • jintao profile image


      11 years ago from china

      Great hub?I have never seen a real Christmas tree, thank you

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      11 years ago from US

      nice and wonderful advice, it is very helpful too, bookmarked so that i can use it next holiday christmas, Thanks mighty, Maita

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thank you, Nikki1.And a belated shout out to my buddy ralwus!

    • nikki1 profile image


      11 years ago

      execellent hub

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I love how you did this one as I too have cats and dogs. Both fool around with the tree and the one cat knocked ours over once. The dogs keep drinking the pine tea water so it dries out too quickly. I did a hub on getting one from a farm. We decided this was our last year for it. The tree is now out side lying in the front lawn. We like free form decorating. Happy New year MM. CC

    • SweetiePie profile image


      11 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Nice ode to the Christmas tree. We have a cute small pink one, but I love it!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      FP -- Ha ha! I've heard of naming lots of other things, but never your Christmas tree!!! LOL

      MFB III -- You have a way with words -- I feel honored to be the "tree topper" this year. I also like your solution. I could try that next year. Sure would drive my kitties nuts...

    • MFB III profile image

      Matthew Frederick Blowers III 

      11 years ago from United States

      You are the tree topper this year on the subject of Christmas tradition. excellent article, fact filled and fun, I just grew a rather large pine tree right outside and dead centered on the picture window of my living room, so I decorate and light it, and put all the present underneath the window inside my house, no fuss no muss, no watering and it looks lovely through the gless. LOL~~Enjoyed this~~MFB III

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      11 years ago

      What a co-incidence! I just a read a book in which a woman buys the most pathetic Christmas tree on the lot and names it Charlie Brown!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi RK,

      That's an interesting thought. My dad didn't do it for the aesthetics. But artificial trees can be lovely, you're right. I seem to be attracting the "minimalists" to this hub. But that's cool. The "purists" are all out cutting their trees and decorating them!

      My ornament collection. I guess you could say there are some "vintage" items in there! Ornaments I remember from my own childhood. Silver and pale blue bulbs with small rings of dark green yarn to hold them on the tree. I wish I had my parents to ask who tied the yarn -- probably Dad, as he was the fisherman in the family!

      I also buy my Hubby and son 1-2 new ornaments each year to reflect something about their personalities or something we've done that year. So my ornament collection is growing!

      Thanks for asking and thanks so much for visiting. Merry Xmas! MM

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 

      11 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Your Dad has good taste. Artificial trees can be very pretty.

      Did you look at the result 80% of 5 have artificial.

      By the way mine is a six foot white.

      Do you have any vintage ornaments that you use?

    • lmmartin profile image


      11 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      I have a Norfolk pine in a pot, decorated with red plaid bows, that I will plant in my back yard on New Years Day. (He'll be no. 3 in the hedge.)

      Merry Christmas, Mighty-mom

      Lynda Martin

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi Dohn-- Your holiday sounds really neat. How cool to have home country customs as well as American customs! Midnight mass is a lovely tradition. My Hubby's family is Lutheran and because they are here, we do Lutheran candlelight ceremony Xmas Eve. I'd prefer to go to Mass, but marriage is about compromise... Merry, merry!

      Sue -- Being an auntie is way more fun, isn't it! I bet you are a wonderful aunt! Merry Christmas to you as well.

    • emohealer profile image

      Sioux Ramos 

      11 years ago from South Carolina

      Enjoyed the article very much, I did however miss the pictures of your wonderful trees, they sound beautiful!

      When I was growing up, back in the day when there was no Home Depot and they hadn't thought of tree cutting permits yet and "tree farms", we had a family tradition of going into the woods and finding the tree. We made quite a day of it, and always knew we had found just the right one.

      All grown up now, never having children and living alone, i do not indulge in a tree of any sort or decorations at all. For the "mood", I burn yankee candles and enjoy the marvelous smells of Christmas. I drive all around and visit everyone elses decorations. Then I dress up with my Santa hat, jingle bell earrings, red shirt, etc. and drive across the country to all of my siblings homes and indulge my many nieces and nephews with the noisy and many pieces gifts their parents would rather them not to have.

      Thanks for the great article and Merry Christmas!!! I have no inclination to being "politically correct"! Sue

    • dohn121 profile image


      11 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Although my family consists of Buddhists, we do celebrate Christmas as far as gift giving, having a festive dinner, and hours of travel is concerned. Sometimes, we'll even go to midnight mass with my sister's in-laws if you can believe that.

      To us, Christmas is more like an American holiday due to the fact that all of our sponsors were Christian, Catholic, and Jewish.

      Thanks for sharing this, MM. It's always fun reading your hubs! Merry Christmas!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      That's a very sane and sensible approach! Obviously Bill is not nicknamed Buddy the Elf (like some Hubbies I could name). I must say I enjoyed decorating my mother-in-law's tree which is about 4 fee and up on a table. No problem getting the lights and garland all the way around. Bigger is notalways better!

      Merry Christmas (is that ok to say still?) to you, Pam and I hope that Bill is feeling all better. MM

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Since my children have all grown and moved away I've become sort of a scrooge in this department. I have an little (like, 2 foot) artificial tree in a pot with lights already on it that I set on top of a cedar chest in front of a street-facing window and call it a day. I don't like all the fuss, really, and we always celebrate at one of the kid's homes and at my mother-in-law's so it's not like anyone ever comes here. We keep the tree up until New Year's Day, then I put it back in the box until next year.


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