I Want a Really Real Christmas Tree

By Lynn Ingram

I know they’re convenient and reusable and some of them look pretty real.

Some of them even smell real.

Nevertheless, I am philosophically opposed to artificial Christmas trees. If God had intended us to have aluminum and plastic trees, He’d have planted them.

When it comes to Christmas decorations, I want real things. Real glossy green magnolia on my mantel, wreaths fashioned of real cedar and real pine and real holly with red berries. That last bit is no small feat, as hungry birds have de-berried most of my trees.

Most importantly, I want a real live Christmas tree. I want needles all over the carpet and sap that sticks to my fingers. I want my house filled with that wonderful scent that is only truly available from a freshly-cut evergreen.

When I was a kid, we cut our Christmas tree from a big field of cedars that grew beside our house. To me, those cedars were perfect, the quintessential Christmas trees. I thought spruces and firs were awfully naked-looking because they didn’t have branches in all the places that those cedars did.

As a young adult, having set up my own housekeeping, far away from my cedar field, the prospect of actually paying money for a Christmas tree was an assault upon my sensibilities. Buying a Christmas tree felt as foreign as putting syrup in grits. I’m wedded to visions of Christmases of yesteryear, like those on Currier & Ives Christmas cards. I still think acquiring a Christmas tree ought to involve a saw, a trudge through snow, a search for the perfect specimen and a triumphant dragging of the tree back home – where, of course, steaming mugs of hot chocolate await (made with Hershey’s cocoa, thank you very much; none of that Swiss Miss packet stuff for me).

Sigh. Big, sorrowful sigh. It is sadly true that where there are no trees available to be cut down, one must purchase a tree if one intends to have a place to hang the cranberry-and-popcorn strings. (Yes, I do make them – every single year – with real cranberries and real popcorn, popped in a pot on the stove, the way God intended.)

Not long ago, I decided to get a really real Christmas tree, as in one that was still living, that had been dug up rather than cut down. If I really had to buy a Christmas tree, I reasoned, my environmentalist, tree-hugger sensibilities would be much more satisfied if I spent money on a live tree that I could keep that way.

What could possibly go wrong?

For starters, the root ball on a living tree is big. Really, really big. Huge, even. What in the Sam Hill was I going to put this thing in? Ordinary tree stands were out of the question (and I thought, gleefully, so was the nerve-fraying task of screwing this screw in and that screw out trying to get the thing to stand up straight.)

A friend’s offer of a five-gallon bucket seemed perfect—until I compared the bucket and the root ball. Not even close.

So I went to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has everything, right? You just have to find it. The container I needed wasn’t in the Christmas department, but I hadn’t really expected it to be. I tried housewares, imagining some enormous plastic bin big enough to hold my tree. No luck. Maybe the automotive department, something like the containers for catching oil when you change it in your car. Nope; not there either.

Ah, the houseplant department! There, finally, was a sufficiently round and tall plastic pot just waiting to hold my tree. For $29.95, I bought it.

Once home, however, I confronted a new problem: How was I to get the tree into the pot? I thought I’d just pick the tree up and stick it in the pot. And that was because I had not yet attempted to move that tree by myself; it had been delivered.

Holy Earth Mother of Dead Dirt Weight! Evidently, Christmas trees are grown in concrete that just looks like dirt on the face of the earth. Lead may well be lighter.

So I sought help, which didn’t improve things much, except there were now two stubborn souls on a mission to get that tree in the house. Determined not to be defeated – and, as it was Sunday night and no forklifts were immediately available – we shoved, dragged, kicked, heaved and hoisted the tree onto the porch.

There are no Currier & Ives-inspired Christmas cards with scenes like that. Nor do any Christmas cards contain verses with language like the muttered words that accompanied the Great Moving of the Tree.

Of course, now the tree needed to go into the pot, and of course, the pot wasn’t quite big enough – what did you expect? To solve that, I removed the burlap around the root ball and some of the dirt covering the roots. I ignored the little voice that suggested that the burlap and discarded dirt were meant to help keep my tree alive. Never mind: I was determined. That tree was going into the house and it was going to be decorated that night.However: Isn’t there always a however? Removing some dirt revealed an assortment of roots that stuck out just far enough to exceed the pot’s diameter. No problem. A couple of judicious stomps with my foot shoved those right in.

Except for that one root that resisted being shoved anywhere. Two vicious stomps persuaded the uncooperative root to join its friends inside the pot. The second vicious stomp was the one that split the plastic pot neatly down one side.

Nevertheless, the tree was potted, and so into the house it went. And in just a little while, it was covered with twinkly lights and red gingham bows and popcorn-and-cranberry strings and sentimental ornaments –complete with its pine cone star at the top. It was, indeed, a lovely sight to behold.

Never mind that I couldn’t water it, as the pot was now cracked, unless I wanted to soak presents and carpet. It smelled right. I had needles in the carpet that were still there when I moved from that house. I had needle pricks and sap on my fingers. I had a real tree.

I did try to think of a better container that would allow me to water the tree and save its little evergreen life. Much too late, I found a galvanized washtub, just the right size. Getting that fully decorated tree out of the spit plastic pot and into that washtub was a whole nother Christmas adventure. That, dear reader, is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say that it involved several friends and copious alcohol consumption.

In case you’re wondering: Yes, I planted that tree – despite the fact that when I moved it to the yard, nearly all of its needles fell right off. I was reasonably sure that didn’t bode well for the tree’s future life, but I dug a hole and planted it anyway. Have I mentioned that I can be a bit single-minded?

And when I sold that house, my dead Christmas tree still stood in my front yard.

In the interest of complete honestly, I did sneak a look at the artificial trees on sale after Christmas that year. Just a look, mind you. Or maybe two. Or three.

I confess: They didn’t look that bad. You go on and buy one if you want to, and I promise not to say ugly things about you. As for me, I’m not going over to the Dark Side just yet. In my house, I’m still having the real deal – needles and sap and the heavenly scent of evergreen.

There will not, however, be a root ball in sight.

About this writer

  • Lynn Ingram Lynn Ingram would rather dance than eat three times a day – unless it’s steamed oysters that are being served. Lynn works as a clinical psychologist and part-time instructor in the psychology department at UNCW. Either or both of those jobs might account for why she recently tried to change the TV channel with her cell phone instead of the remote.

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One Response to “I Want a Really Real Christmas Tree”

  1. Carolyn Allen says:

    Hello Lynn,
    Next year buy a potted Norfolk pine. Then at the end of the Christmas season, you can plant the tree in your yard. Oh! but just remember, to water it during the time it’s in your house. But of course this could take all the fun out of buying a live Christmas tree. Merry Christmas

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