It’s Christmas time and in the center of it all is the Christmas tree. That majestic symbol of Christmas that the Germans added to our yuletide traditions, with hanging ornaments and tiny sparkling lights, where Santa will leave his presents for all the good kids, and of course, an angel or star at the top. You walk into any Macy’s or any other major store and Christmas trees are all over – perfectly decorated. You smile… then your smile turns downwards. How do they do that? I swear that Santa’s little elves come down each year and make those trees – they are too perfect. Not like my Christmas trees… some leaning, others the lights go out, and needles falling. Now that’s a real Christmas tree! I feel like I have perfected the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Since the late 60’s there has always been that battle between two competing views of the Christmas tree. Like Republicans and Democrats, or light beer versus regular beer… there are arguments on both side for a real tree or fake tree.

As a kid, we always had a real Christmas tree and I insisted on one until, maybe, 10 years ago. In the 60’s and 70’s, with it’s cheap plastic branches in all different colors of the rainbow, the trees just looked too fake but today, they look better than real ones. For me, the perfect Christmas tree now gets stored in a plastic tub in my garage and each year, I drag it out and “assemble it”. Nice and simple. No water needed, but, I do have a touch of guilt that we don’t use a real tree anymore – until I remember how two months after Christmas, I would step on a needle that buried itself in the carpet and was hiding, just waiting for that right moment to get me.

When my older daughter was just a tyke, we would go out to buy a real tree. Of course, Old Man Winter knew I was going out to buy the tree so he would drop the temperature to just above twenty-one degrees with a wind chill making it ten degrees – a pox on him! First you had to deal with which tree was right. This one was too skinny, that one too fat, this one was not full enough, that one the needles are already falling off. Then you had to deal with the guy, who smelled of whiskey and other uninviting aromas, giving you that annoying look to just buy anything, knowing that he will overcharge you anyway. Then you had to deal with the little daughter whining that’s she’s cold. But then, like an angel bursting through the clouds, we would find the perfect tree, negotiate a price (we’re Greek, we know how to bazarii), then had them tie it up. Unfortunately, the little daughter had turned blue from the cold and I would find her in the little makeshift house the workers used, to warm up. Poor kid. One year we cut our own tree – felt like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation. That’s a whole other catastrophe.

When I was a kid, we trimmed the tree and used silver tinsel and Angel’s Hair (kids, ask your parents and grandparents about Angel’s Hair). When those two items combined with the sap from the real tree, it was a mess – worse than spilling baklava syrup on you. You couldn’t get it off your hands and it was everywhere. It was even in the dog’s after dinner remains – if you know what I mean. I guess he ate the stuff! Back then, we used screw-in light bulbs. We would take out each strand, untangle it, plug it in to see which bulbs worked and then hung them. The good thing was that if one light went out, they all didn’t go out. Of course, they were multi-colored!

Today, using the fake tree, there isn’t the sap issue any more and tinsel and Angel’s Hair have basically gone out with 8-track players. Now the issue is lights. The kids always complain that there are not enough lights, but I put 1,000 lights on! Oh well, the good thing is that the lights are cheap. You plug them in, they don’t work, throw them out. Bad thing is if one goes out, the whole strand goes out. And that is what happens about half-way through the time you put the tree up and Christmas day. Yeah, they give you the replacement bulbs but who wants to deal with that. The kids complain… you just smile and say, “Don’t worry, children, next year I’ll put triple the amount of lights”. Of course, you don’t.

And don’t forget, when your trimming the tree you need to listen to Christmas music. When I was young, we put on Bing Crosby’s Christmas album with White Christmas and that favorite yuletide song, Mele Kalikimaka (I know your singing it right now!) Years after the album was lost, I found a cassette of it in a $1.99 bin at some drug store. I transferred it to a CD so now my kids too can say Merry Christmas in Hawaiian. Isn’t Bing just wonderful?

In the old days (the 50’s through the 80’s), we used colored lights. All of a sudden, we became sophisticated and have to use only white lights. Where in the Christmas tree manual does it state only white lights? Isn’t Christmas the season of lights… all colored lights? Do the white lights make us feel more high class? This also goes for the lights adorning the outside of our houses… again all white! People, wake up! Think outside the box. Think back to your childhood. Use all the colors of the spectrum. Believe me, you’ll enjoy it. At our house, we compromised. The main tree has white lights. The second tree has colored lights… that’s for me! Of course, I am sorry to say we still have white lights outside… krima!

Now with a real tree, you have to water it. Each day you dutifully take a pitcher of water and make sure the water is above the cut end of the tree, until a few days before Christmas when you start forgetting and after Christmas when you just don’t care about the tree anymore because you’re thinking of when you have to take it down. This is not a problem with fake trees.

The day arrives when you have to take down the tree. With either the real or fake tree, you always promise that you will be organized in taking down the lights and the balls will be colored-coordinated, until you start. You want to finish before the football game starts so you just throw everything into the box… you’ll worry about it next year! With the real tree the problem are those little annoying needles that fall off the tree just by walking by. You, again, promise that next year you’ll water the tree every day… I guaranty you won’t. One more thing… everyone is there to put the tree up and they are giving you commands, like Drill Sergeant R. Lee Emry in Full Metal Jacket, on how to put up the lights and ornaments, but somehow, they all disappear like the Viet Cong in an ambush when it comes time to take it down… nowhere to be seen.

You finally get the tree down, the ornaments and lights packed away and you finally sit down to watch the football game. Oh, you forgot to get a beer so you get up and… OUCH, you stepped on one of those needles. You curse and promise… again… next year I’m getting a fake tree.

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!

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