The town of Carmel has been running a notice on its website for about two weeks now announcing when the town will pick up disposed-of Christmas trees from the curb.
Those dates, by the way, are Jan. 8 and 15.
That’s a bit early if you ask me because these days most people don’t take their trees down till around May, by which time they’ve turned to vertical sticks with some twisted, gnarly twigs jutting out from their sides, coated with a layer of dull, battered tinsel.
These are the trees of the Christmas-o-philes—people so obsessed with the holiday (not necessarily the Jesus part) that they want to live within it and its red-and-green trappings for as long as legally possible. They put up their trees (and ancillary decorations) as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are sealed up and stashed in the fridge, and won’t take their not-so-evergreen down until it becomes a literal fire hazard.
And there is no way a Christmas-o-phile would ever purchase an artificial tree to guard against such a potential disaster. Artificial trees are just that: artificial. They don’t have that piney smell. They can’t be part of the family tradition where you take the kids to the tree lot and pick one out together, or, better yet, off to the woods where you chop one down (see Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation”).
When I was growing up, we had a real tree. I’ve got some weathered old Polaroids to prove it. Most of them were pretty scraggily—they’d never make it as a subject of a Currier and Ives print. But then at some point my father decided to cross over to the dark side and buy an artificial tree. All hell broke out in our household. Us kids were aghast. It was utter blasphemy! My father’s point was simple: “I’m NOT spending 50 bucks on something that we’re throwing away in a couple of weeks.” (See, he wasn’t a Christmas-o-phile, so he didn’t keep the tree up for four months, which would have given him a much better return on his investment.)
Artificial trees have come a long way since those days. If you watch QVC (I don’t—someone told me), you will see them hawking some pretty amazing fake firs. And the cool thing is, they come with the lights already strung. You just kind of pop the whole thing open like a giant umbrella and—presto!—instant Christmas tree!
Of course, doing it this way would also put an end to another longstanding family holiday tradition (at least in our household). It’s the one where your dad tries to untangle the rat’s nest of lights (cursing merrily all the way!) and then string them up only to find they won’t come on because one of the blubs (the size of a VW headlight) is dead. Then the ritual begins to determine which bulb that is.
But in the 21st century, that’s no longer a problem thanks to these QVC trees. Some of them come pre-flocked (sprayed with artificial snow), which makes them look flocking amazing.
My grandparents had an artificial tree—one that you would have never seen on QVC if QVC had existed back then.
Grandma and Grandpa’s tree was about 4-feet tall and it was… silver! I want to call it gaudy, but it was too ugly to be gaudy. It looked more like a hairy UFO than a tree. However, when I was 8 years old, it was just fantastic—one of the most wonderful things I’d ever set my eyes on. But the best thing yet is that out of all their 17 grandkids, I was chosen to be the one to set it up and decorate it for them. I pulled it out of the box, stuck the silver branches into the vertical silver pole and hung the ornaments. (It didn’t need lights. It was silver and therefore glittery enough.)
My grandfather conducted all this. He would sit on the couch and direct me as I hung each bulb.
“Put the blue one down there.” He points.
“More to the left! No! That’s not left!”
When I moved to Los Angeles and got a house of my own, I decided I would start my own Christmas tree traditions. I had already inherited some of the old ornaments that my parents used (some of which I had made as a kid) and was slowly adding to the collection by visiting craft shows and flea markets.
And it had to be a real tree, of course. I wasn’t about to go into the woods with an ax to chop one down (I had no desire to add a trip to the ER as part of my new Christmas traditions), so it was off to the tree lot outside Home Depot. Living in L.A., it was a little surreal shopping for a Christmas tree in shorts and a T-shirt.
In addition to all my curated ornaments, I decided I wanted my tree to have a Victorian feel to it, so I would string popcorn and cranberries. As it turns out, stringing popcorn and cranberries is an arduous, time-consuming, boring process, so I enlisted the help of my friends. I discovered that if free food and booze are involved, you can get people to do just about anything. Thus, my Tom Sawyer-inspired “cranberry-stringing parties” were born.
So, I went through all this effort (and I must admit, created quite a spectacular tree) only to have to leave at Christmas and head back East to spend the holiday with my family and their (not as nice as mine) tree.
When I returned home to L.A., I discovered that my cats (did I mention I had two cats?) had mistaken the tree for a giant toy and used it to frolic in—eventually knocking it to the floor, breaking dozens of ornaments and dragging strings of cranberries and popcorn all over the house. For months after I was finding broken ornaments in places you would not believe!
My personal Christmas tree tradition quickly changed. The following year, I bought a pre-decorated, artificial 14-inch tabletop tree and called it a day.
Merry Christmas, everyone!