Skip the Plastic and Get a Real Christmas Tree

Moving to New Hampshire opened his eyes to “real”



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

At this very moment countless adults are slipping into a reverie that transports them back to a childhood day when they and their parents and their siblings trimmed a live Christmas tree — cut by themselves at the snow-covered farm up the road — with strings of popcorn and cranberries, popsicle stick ornaments made at school and five or six porcelain bells that were passed down through generations; a fire blazing on the hearth; and the perfume of balsam filled every room of the house. I’m not one of those adults.

No, right now I’m recalling the assembly of a plastic tree, decorated with plastic molded ornaments, bound with 47 feet of gold-hued plastic garland and five pounds of silver plastic tinsel. After my father installed the gyroscopic lighted, rotating tree-topper, my mother applied a full aerosol can of spray snow — to keep everything in place. And to give the tree “that realistic look.” The back-lit plastic log flickered in the artificial fireplace, and the heavy fumes of resin and polymers gave us all a warm and magical feeling inside. Suffice it to say, my father was a plastics man. 

When I moved to New Hampshire in the ’80s, I was amazed to discover two things: that people up here put real maple syrup on their pancakes and they put real Christmas trees in their houses. I embraced both concepts immediately. In fact, if I could find a way to put maple syrup on my Christmas tree, I would.

Once I settled into my first apartment after graduation from college, I couldn’t wait to get a real tree. The notion of a live Christmas tree just felt right to me. It felt genuine. It felt New Hampshire.

"My first Christmas tree looked like a cross between a creepy topiary at Spooky World and a Dadaist art installation. And I loved it."

My eagerness to be right, genuine and New Hampshire for my first Christmas in my first apartment found me on Thanksgiving day, tying a seven-foot balsam fir to the top of my seven-foot long hatchback. This same eagerness found me on Thanksgiving night wedged for three hours between a seven-foot balsam fir and the narrow stairway to my seven-foot-by-seven-foot third floor studio apartment.

I persevered, though, and after a couple shots of maple syrup, a score or more of arbitrary branch cuttings with a steak knife and an entire skein of baling twine tied from the tree to a variety of haphazard makeshift anchors, I had an honest-to-goodness real Christmas tree standing more or less upright in my kitchen/living room/bedroom. After trimming it with a disparate thrift shop collection of Christmas kitsch and yard sale freebies, my first Christmas tree looked like a cross between a creepy topiary at Spooky World and a Dadaist art installation. And I loved it.

With almost 30 more New Hampshire Christmases under my belt, I have learned a few things about Christmas trees since that first experience:

1. Your tree will last much longer if you water it.

2. Even if your living room can accommodate a 12-foot tree, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get it through the door.

3. Some dogs do not distinguish between outdoor trees and indoor trees.

And 4. No matter how appealing the thought of it may be, drizzling maple syrup on your Christmas tree is a very, very bad idea. 

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