December 12, 2004

A Christmas tree.

I'm terribly late this year buying a Christmas tree. I used to like to buy the tree the day after Thanksgiving, but that was back when I bought it early because I was going to toss it out the day after Christmas, when I would drive the family down to Florida to do a late Christmas with my mother. My mother died some years ago, so I've let the after Thanksgiving tree tradition slip away and become haphazard about how long to leave the tree up after Christmas. In my family growing up, we used to put up the tree on December 16th, which was my mother's birthday. (It's also Beethoven's birthday.) One thing that keeps me from thinking I'm horribly late with the tree this year is that it's still not the 16th.

This year, I want a small tree. Why do people want really big trees? It's as if they see the ceiling as a challenge, or they like to get up on a ladder. Nowadays, the trees are too perfect. I see everyone wants Fraser firs because Martha Stewart endorsed them. I always bypass the Frasers and go for the balsams, which I've always assumed people preferred. They are the ones that smell like Christmas trees. They are rejected now, I see, because the Frasers have a thick and bushy "perfect" silhouette. And they hold onto their needles. I'm opposed to that. First, part of the excitement is in the needle shedding. And part of the fun is the imperfection of the shape. You should have a lot of gaps to fill in with ornaments.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, nearly everyone got a balsam pine tree, and they were always asymmetrical and much sparser than today's trees. There was a lot of strategy to deciding which part to face toward the wall, and when you went to someone's house you could talk quite a bit about the shape of the tree. You got a really nice tree meant something back then, when a fair amount of hunting was involved. Now that they are all nice, I'm going to hunt for one that is as sparse and asymmetrical as I can find.

UPDATE: Sarah writes to say that December 16th is also Jane Austen's birthday. Excellent birthday! Too close to Christmas to be desirable (for those in the Christian tradition). My own birthday is also too close to Christmas, though, and the only famous person I share it with that I know of is Rush Limbaugh (same year too!). Well, let me check: I see I also share with Rob Zombie, Jeff Bezos, Howard Stern, Joe Frazier, Tex Ritter, and Jack London. A real guy day, apparently.

Speaking of birthdays: today is Frank Sinatra's birthday.

ANOTHER UPDATE: An emailer notes that "Wikipedia is awesome with dates" (an email subject line with a spammy tone to it). Here's December 16th, with more birthdays than the link I used, plus famous events and deaths that occurred on the day.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: An emailer explains why the trees of today look too "perfect":
I used to grow Christmas trees in Canada -- Balsam fir, of course. The 'perfection' about which you speak is a result of pruning techniques rather than being related to species. As the tips of the branches are repeatedly cut with a machete-like tool two side branches grow out. The next year their tips are lopped, and it's lather-rinse-repeat until you've got one of those near-perfect cones ... which I detest.

So, basically, you're buying a big pruned shrub. It's just not tree-like anymore.

When I bought my house, there were immense, ball-shaped evergreens on either side of the front stoop. Despite all sorts of work that needed to be done on the house inside and out, we devoted many hours to cutting these things down and digging out the stumps. I find over-pruning quite ugly. I have a leafy hedge around my front yard, and I keep it trimmed with hand clippers. When people walk by and snicker about power shears, I have to struggle not to growl at them.

No comments: