This year I bought a fake Christmas tree. Over the past 25+ years I've bought a real tree every year, with only a couple of exceptions. (One year my husband and I strung fishing wire in a criss-cross pattern across our high, arched living room ceiling and hung ornaments up above. It looked festive but I missed the tree.)
I figure I've spent at least $2,000 on Christmas trees over the years, but I never really felt I had a choice. You're either a real tree person or a fake tree person, and I was confident in my identity: A living thing had to die and travel a long distance for me to feel it was truly Christmas. Now, looking back, that attitude seems myopic. I don't know why I resisted for so long.
Of course, part of it was the poor quality of most fake trees. They were too green, too, well, fake-looking. Their shapes were too perfect and their metal "trunks" visible through foliage that resembled sprigs of Astroturf. Or worse, they were some fake color like white or pink that just intensified the artificiality of it all.
These days, though, you can get a real-looking fake tree for a reasonable price (I paid about $240 for mine). I was a big proponent of Martha Stewart's line, which sadly no longer seems to be available. She obviously forced her minions to study actual trees, needles and ornament-hanging needs to develop a product that works well (hinged branches and twigs are well-made and highly adaptable) and looks even better.
Having a real tree is a commitment, and in my revved-up, complicated life I'm just not willing to make that commitment any more. Here's what I'm (gladly) giving up:
1. The overall aggravation factor. It's a lot of work to go to a Christmas tree lot, deal with whatever non-local might be in charge, hand over a big chunk of cash, have the thing strapped to the roof of your car, drive home hoping it doesn't slide down your windshield and blind you, and get it off the car and into the house, dropping needles all the way. Then you have to remember to water it, sweep up after it when it sheds despite your efforts, and lament when your best ornaments are too heavy for its wimpy branches.
2. Haggling. I may like bargains, but I hate haggling. When I see a price, I like to know that I can pay it without feeling like a lazy sucker for not working hard enough to get a lower number. I didn't have to haggle when I bought my Martha Stewart at K-Mart. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at checkout to find that my tree was on sale and was even cheaper than I had expected. Now THAT I like!
3. The dryout factor/Fear of fire. I rarely light candles because my only phobia is of my house burning down. Sure, I worry about other things, but not in the way that I can visualize the complete and utter destruction by fire of everything I own. I don't know where this phobia comes from, but I figure I should take it seriously. Every Christmas season I was obsessive about watering the tree, and throwing it out when it became so dry it wasn't safe to light a match near it. This year, for the first time, I don't have to think about it. Except for the candles.
4. The mess. Many is the June when I dig a needle out from between a crack in the floor. I'm not much of a housekeeper, but I don't need to have my nose rubbed in it.
5. Ancillary damage. I have a water stain on the living room floor from a faulty stand and dinged doorways from bringing in the tree. One tree fell over and destroyed only those ornaments that had been handed down from my grandmother and meant the most to me. Odds of any of those things happening with a fake tree are minimal.
6. Post-Christmas disposal. Here in Los Angeles, you can't just dump your tree at the curb, although many obviously didn't get the memo. You have a couple of options: slice it into pieces and put it in the green bin (not too feasible for me since a long-ago worker at the house stole my chainsaw) or take it to a "local" dropoff point for recycling. In my case, the nearest place is the Hollywood Bowl. With Highland Avenue all torn up this month, the Bowl is even more difficult to get to than LA traffic usually makes it. No thanks.
7. Environmental impact. By going fake I get to bask in the greenness that is my Christmas this year, and for many years to come. That's "green" in the most trendy, can't-hide-from-it way. One fake tree saves many real trees from being cut down and transported by gas-guzzling trucks. Sure, most Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms and were grown specifically to be cut down. Sure, plastic trees do generate some pollution in their manufacture. But you have to admit, killing a tree is a pretty environmentally unfriendly approach to decorating.
8. OK, it is partly about the money. My K-Mart purchase was about the same as I would have spent in two and a half years on the real thing. By Year Three I'll be feeling really virtuous.
So this year I have my tree all set up already and will enjoy it for a month without any worries. But ironically, I still have to make a trip to the tree lot at the corner. Because when my son learned we would be getting a fake tree, he was beside himself at the thought that we would not be seeing the guys who run the tree lot. They're a motley group of Rastafarians and hard-sellers who make every tree hunt an adventure. Since this year has been tough enough on him, what with his parents splitting up and all, I gave in and told him we could get a small tree for the upstairs landing. Now that the clutter of the past decade has been removed, it's quite spacious and a tree will look good there. If only I could be sure that he would keep it watered. But based on my experience with the dog, I won't get my hopes up.