December 10, 2011 by Alison Grisham
It all comes down to this — real or fake? Not everyone agrees, but everyone has a preference, and typically a strong one. If you think I’m talking about surgical enhancement, you probably haven’t flipped your calendar from November to December yet. I’m talking about Christmas trees, of course, and it’s time to decide where you fall in on the debate.
Growing up in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an artificial tree. I would venture to say that the every single New England state leans heavily toward decorating real trees. Specific to my household, however, was the fact that my mother holds an advanced degree in putting on airs. Her level of snobbery approaches English royalty, which is surprisingly higher than the Spanish royals or the pretty ones in Monaco. The bottom line is that I grew up with cloth napkins, sterling silver, a lineage that traces my family back to the Mayflower and, yes, a freshly cut Christmas tree every December.
While I still shutter at the sight of a cloth napkin, I never really gave much thought to the Christmas trees that I’ve put up throughout my adult life. My family had real. My husband’s family had real. So we had real. It was that simple.
Now don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t any yearly traditional magic to it. It’s not like we took a horse and wagon out to the back acreage of some Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree with an antique hand saw. If you ask me, that plan is way overrated and with my luck, one of my kids would have cut off a hand. Instead, we always just grabbed a tree at the nearest parking-lot-cum-Christmas-tree-stand.
But decorating was another matter entirely. That’s where my upbringing really weighed me down. For over a decade, I felt obligated to drape freshly strung popcorn and cranberries over the boughs of our needle-dropping tree to give it that “authentic” feeling. With the amount of popcorn and cranberries I have strung over the years, a person could circumnavigate the globe. I put hundreds of twinkling white lights in between each branch and hung charming wooden ornaments in every open space. And for the piece-de-resistance, the tree was topped with a glitter-covered handmade star to replicate the one my husband had made for his own family’s tree in the fourth grade.
But here’s the problem. In addition to the fact that the image I just described makes me embarrassed and physically ill, I also finally realized, that my kids don’t live on the Kansas prairie in 1895. We weren’t giving them cornhusk dolls or building blocks made from an old pine tree down by the creek. Our tree was screaming Norman Rockwell, but our gifts were screaming Nintendo and Mattel. Not to mention the kids — who had previously just begged for colored lights the way most kids beg for a puppy — actually started asking for them on their Christmas wish lists. “Do you think Santa could bring us colored lights?”
So I’ve finally come to grips with it. I know there are some people still hoping to capture the magic of Christmases gone by putting up a lovely old-fashioned Christmas trees that could grace the lobby of any respectable bank. And for all I know, my mother is clipping genuine candles onto her tree and setting them aflame like it’s old Victorian England.
As for me, I’m calling it a day. My tree is going to be artificial, covered in colored lights, and probably dripping with the enough tinsel to make it reflective. I may not impress anyone, but my kids will be asking for one less thing on their Christmas lists and I’ll get to sit back and bask in the tacky Christmas glow that screams modern America.