Paul Batura: Why my grandfather would be appalled by our Christmas tree

Pandemic boosts business for Christmas tree farms

The pandemic is pushing many people to start new outdoor traditions, like cutting down a real Christmas tree together.

After a year of unprecedented political sparring combined with a devastating global pandemic, let’s turn our attention to a debate of (slightly) less – but nevertheless significant – importance: 

Do you prefer a freshly cut or an artificial Christmas tree? 

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reports indicate that Americans hungry for the happiness of Christmas are decorating earlier than ever before. In my own Colorado Springs neighborhood, houses have been lit up with twinkling lights and inflatable figurines since before Thanksgiving. 

I love it – the lights that lead to Christmas elicit hope and a reminder that even in the bleak of a cold winter, better and brighter days are coming. 

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But strings of LEDS, wreaths and snowmen notwithstanding, the family tree still remains the centerpiece of most home holiday displays. 

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, just over 80% of Christmas trees this year will be fake – varying manifestations of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, aluminum, and steel. 

In fairness, artificial trees have come a long way since my 1970s and 1980s childhood when my father assembled ours one branch at a time. He would try to fill in the huge gaps by covering the thin, wooden pole with bendable, green horseshoe rings. 

Looking back, it was a sorry sight. Not knowing any better, the tree was nevertheless magical to me, even with its holes and gaudy gold garland. Over time it grew so rickety that with a house full of 5 rambunctious kids, my dad fastened it to the ceiling with thin green metal wire.  

My contentment with fake trees, though, began fading in the 6th grade after a trip to Atlantic Nursery, a wonderful family-owned garden shop located in Freeport, one town over from our home in Baldwin on Long Island. 

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Each year the nursery would be transformed at Christmas, its greenhouse filled to overflowing with red and white poinsettias and its backroom converted to a shop selling lights and other holiday items. 

But it was all the freshly cut Christmas trees that grabbed my attention and imagination that December Saturday back in 1984.  

Was it the strong and intoxicating scent of pine, bringing back memories of summers in Maine? The sheer number of trees? The wide variety? I was always drawn to the massive ones, fantasizing what it would be like to live in a house large enough to hold such grandeur. 

As I recall, it didn’t take much prodding to convince my dad to make the switch. I’m sure my father knew our artificial tree was on life support. He began regaling us with stories of negotiating with tree vendors on the streets of Brooklyn back when he was a boy.  

"Grandpa would give us $3 and tell us to get the best tree we could find. Even back then you had to be resourceful with such a meager budget." 

So began my love affair with real Christmas trees.  

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I understand some are allergic to them and others couldn’t be bothered with the mess and hassle, but they’re still missing out.  In fact, there’s no rival to a real tree – akin to watching baseball on television and then getting to sit and watch a game in a seat by the dugout. 

But like so much else, it’s not only about the tree, but the pursuit of it and the memories made finding just the right one. 

Over the last 36 years, we’ve visited cold stands on street corners, searching in the dim light of white bulbs strung on tall poles, its proprietors warmed by fire in tall, metal barrels.  

We’ve cut our own trees from the forest, recognizing that the imperfections of nature hold a certain delightful charm. 

We’ve had nervous rides home, hoping and praying the rope will hold and that the tree won’t roll off and disappear into the night or get run over by another car.    

Even just this morning I walked into our living room and the aroma of pine from our tree transported me back to Christmases now long ago – to thoughts of people now gone.  

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I know fake trees can be pretty – but I don’t think they’re nearly as emotive as the real thing. 

My grandfather would be appalled to hear how much we paid for our tree this year, but in this fleeting world of uncertainty, I think it’s money well spent. 

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