I started to write this post in answer to the BlogHer prompt – which is better, a big or a small Christmas tree? but I seem to have answered another question: – real tree, or fake?
This year I bought an enormous, real tree. I loved its huge, dark presence. It dominated our living/dining room, along with the pine scent which hit you as soon as you walked in. My daughter ‘helped’ me decorate it (mainly she looked for Christmas songs on Youtube and sang them while I did the work, occasionally stopping her singing and dancing to point out that I had ‘missed a bit’).
When I was a child, my parents used to get a real tree. I seem to remember some initial snobbishness on my mother’s part about fake plasticky trees (like the one her own mother had), which waned after she had spent some years hoovering pine needles out of the carpet. She was already leaning towards a fake tree when my Dad turned green, in the late 1980s.(Nobody had even heard of the Green Party in those days, and so we really did check to see if he had turned a funny colour. However, he was neither funny coloured nor crazy, as it turned out; merely one of the first people to adopt ideas which were strange then but commonplace nowadays).
Obviously, cutting down a tree to stick in your living room for 2 weeks and then throwing it away was not very Green. However, my Dad found a shop selling trees with roots still attached. The tree could be re-planted outside after Christmas, and re-used. We would use it every year! The pine needle hoovering was set to continue, and the tree destined to become a living, breathing part of our family.
My Dad brought the tree home and set it in pride of place in the living room, in its enormous pot. It did seem to shed rather a lot of needles, but maybe that was the central heating. Once Christmas was over, he took it outside and placed it lovingly in a hole in the back garden, roots carefully preserved.
It continued to shed needles.
‘That tree is not looking very happy,’ said my Mum.
‘That tree is perfectly fine,’ said my Dad, a little defensively. I would like to say that we, the other members of his family, were also early adopters of Green philosophy, but in fact we mostly made fun of his idealism.
As January turned into February, the tree was almost bare and was turning brown.
‘Do needles grow back, like leaves?’ I asked helpfully.
‘It’s called an EVERGREEN,’ said Mum.
‘The tree is fine. it just needs water,’ said my Dad, and went outside and tended the tree.
By March, the tree was a mere skeleton with wispy twigs dropping from it, and even my Dad had to admit it was dead. He made a bonfire of that tree, and we all joked about how determinedly he had searched for signs of life before finally giving up on it. It really wasn’t easy being green, in those days.
Since that Christmas, my parents have had the same little plastic tree every single year, and I have always done the same.
I must have been feeling nostalgic for my childhood days, because when I moved in with my husband and we became a family of four, I set my heart on a ‘real’ tree. That year we had one and the kids loved it (especially when my husband decided to get rid of it after Christmas by burning it on our log fire. He placed a large branch in the fire, and the resulting flame shot out of the grate and licked the ceiling. Pine burns explosively, we learnt. My step-son still asks his Dad to repeat that stunt).
This year we were nostalgic for that first Christmas, and so we bought another real tree. I placed it in between the living and dining room, which means that it get knocked every time people pass, causing a shower of needles which sometimes threatens to become an avalanche. The tree is starting to look bare, and it is not even Christmas Day yet. Looking at it, I think of that poor brown tree which my Dad tried unsuccessfully to nurture back to life in our garden, and start to wish that this one had never been cut down in the first place.
Of course, a living pine tree is the most beautiful thing in the world; a plastic sparkly tree cannot even begin to compare. But the pine tree belongs in the forest, just as the plastic tree belongs in the living room. Next year I think I’ll dig out my twinkly little fake tree, and leave the real ones to carry on growing outside…