Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bye-Bye Christmas Tree

The other day we took down our Christmas tree and put it out by the curb for the very last time. The tree had been up for a month and somehow the dry needles had migrated to unexpected places—the carpet in the middle of the room, between the sofa cushions, and even on the coffee table. The seven foot balsam was so dehydrated that by the time it landed on the curb, it looked like a sickly spindling, naked and neglected.

Next year, we won’t be leaving a tree by the roadside. We won’t experience the fresh evergreen aroma and we won’t make the trek to our favourite Christmas tree supplier. There will be no more hauling it into the house and erecting it upright into its stand, and no more needles flying haphazardly around. Why? Because next year we will join the contingent of fake tree owners and simply unfold the plastic branches attached to a metal trunk and plunk it into the corner of the room.

Bye, bye fresh, fragrant, beautiful Christmas tree. The holidays will never be quite the same.

My husband has terrible allergies and every year in mid December they get worse. He’s stuffed up and itchy and has difficulty breathing. Ironically, wintertime is usually when his allergies improve as there’s no pollen or grass or ragweed or any other offending allergens in the air. We should have figured this out sooner, but I think we were in denial.

I know many people who have artificial Christmas trees. They think they’re great. Easy set-up, easy take-down, no fuss, no muss. Their homes are no less festive than those with the real deal. But still...

We love fresh Christmas trees; they are entrenched in our psyches as integral to the holiday season. The ritual, the tradition, the memories of our own childhood experiences cannot be easily dismissed. My eighty-year-old father still talks about the Christmas trees of his childhood in Slovakia, selected from the forest on his family’s property. Illuminated by dozens of candles, and decorated with homemade candies wrapped in colourful paper, the tree had a magical presence in his country home.

Unlike the perfect cultivated firs, pines and balsams that stand in our urban living rooms today, his all-natural tree was more like a larger version of the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. In fact, he was so attached to this style that when we were kids, he would seek out the most sparse, sad looking tree in the lot. We always rejected his selection. One time he bought the tree on his own and came home with such a gangly evergreen that my mother made him return it. After that experience, he forever lost his enthusiasm for Christmas tree shopping.

The history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ancient pagans who celebrated the Winter Solstice. After December 21st when the sun began its ascent, the fertile time for planting and producing bountiful harvests was around the corner. The evergreen tree symbolized eternal life and replenishment. To represent the plentiful food to come, trees were decorated with apples and other fruit. Candles were used as reminders of the sun’s brilliance and warmth.

It’s not entirely clear when Christians appropriated the evergreen tree as a symbol of the Christian faith, but it is thought that St. Boniface (672-754), a German missionary, was the instigator. “Let Christ be at the center of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days,” he said, according to legend.

But chopping down and erecting a Christmas tree began as a custom in 16th century Northern Germany, when the tradition of placing the decorated tree in the town square to celebrate the holidays emerged. First a Protestant tradition and later accepted by the Catholics, the practice became popular in the early 19th century.

In 2006, a Toronto judge created a flurry of controversy when he ordered a Christmas tree out of a downtown provincial courthouse lobby because he felt it was an affront to non-Christians. He asserted that it was inappropriate that the first thing a person sees when they walk into the building is a Christian symbol.

Everyone can probably appreciate the spectacular 18-foot evergreen that graces the White House Blue Room—a public space open to visitors—each year. This year, Michele Obama had the tree adorned with the theme of “Reflect, Rejoice and Renew” in mind, and communities from all over America contributed to the decorations. None of the ornaments on the White House Christmas tree are of a religious nature; there has even been talk of changing the name to the White House “Holiday” tree.

To me, the Christmas tree denotes a festive spirit, regardless of religion. It can represent whatever you want it to, whether you’re a pagan, a Christian, someone from another faith group, or an atheist. Whether it symbolizes the Winter Solstice and bountiful harvests, or Christian beliefs, it’s a tradition that can simply uplift a room and bring cheer to its viewers.

I say keep the tree and call it what you want. Place it wherever it can be enjoyed by many. My only concern is that next year, our family Christmas tree will have to be a plastic reproduction. At least I won’t find evergreen needles in my hair anymore, and my husband will hopefully breathe a little better.


  1. Think of it as the start of a new tradition. One advantage of an artificial tree is that you can put it up as early as you want! Perhaps you can begin a new tradition of some kind next year that the boys will always remember. Every family creates their own special memories. One of our favourites is buying a Christmas tree ornament whenever we travel. Every year when we decorate the tree, we get to relive each of our trips a little bit!

  2. It's sad to say goodbye to a beloved tradition. I'm torn myself on the fake versus real issue. At one point, I was an absolute die-hard fan of the real tree, but as the years pass, I'm sorely tempted to buy a pre-lit tree. No more stringing lights! Hopefully you can celebrate the joys of the fake tree, seeing it as an object of beauty in itself. And, as you say, hopefully, your husband can breathe easier over the holiday season.

  3. Enjoy your Christmas tree, no matter if it is a plastic or a living one, do not give it up. The annual experience will carry you on through the tides of time. The sight of the tree will stay in the back of your mind, a warming and comforting idea to resort to in days of hardship.