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A Live Christmas Tree

December 18, 2013

This post was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Joeh at Cranky Old Man. If you haven’t done so already, treat yourself by paying Joe a visit.




Like many folks I’ve tangoed with the notion of buying a live tree for Christmas. Why kill a tree just to have it in your living room for a few weeks? In 1985 I decided it was time for a live tree, one I could plant in the backyard after the Holidays as a fond reminder of our boy’s fifth Christmas. The living tree I selected did serve as a reminder of that festive day, but not in the way I planned.


First of all, a living seven foot tree comes with a massive and heavy root ball. Getting this monster in and out of a station wagon wasn’t easy. The tree came with a list of instructions, and I usually find instructions as decipherable as hieroglyphics. The tree needed to acclimate to an indoor climate by resting in our unheated garage for ten days before being brought inside. I should have decided on this sooner because precious little time remained for us to properly enjoy our tree. CJ helped decorate it, but I had to keep an eye on him because many of the ornaments were fragile enough to break if you breathed on them heavily.


After the Holidays the tree was stripped of its ornaments and lights before being returned to the garage where it needed to re-acclimate before being placed outside. Ten days later I hauled it to the backyard where it sat on our patio, unplanted, because of the arrival of an ice storm that made the ground too hard for digging. Other delays prevented the tree from being planted until early February.


Frost and snow had damaged the exposed root system so by summer the tree didn’t look very appealing. Many of the limbs had gone limp and the tree was an eyesore. I considered cutting it down but little CJ would have none of it—he loved that tree and didn’t care what it looked like.


Years passed and the tree struggled to stay alive; it never filled out or grew taller. Over the years I’d glance out our glass patio door and see snow covering it, birds stealing dry needles for nests and blistering sun turning the branches brown and brittle. It was hardly the wonderful memento of a bygone Christmas. When time came for us to relocate our realtor suggested I remove the unsightly tree in the backyard. I didn’t own a chainsaw or axe, so I grabbed my small hatchet to chop it down.


Eleven years earlier in ’85 I’d planted that tree in the fenced corner of our backyard. There was room to walk behind the tree, but I never did. Now, looking for the best angle to sink my hatchet, I was circling the tree like an executioner when something shiny caught my eye. On the side of the tree facing the fence hung one of our most fragile Christmas ornaments, somehow overlooked when the trim was removed. It had managed to endure backyard football games, wild animals, snow and blistering temperatures.


I set down the hatchet and gently reached for it. The bright red glass shattered at my touch, leaving sparkling glitter in my hands. It had handled everything nature could throw at it but now, as if realizing what was about to happen, the ornament “offed itself.”


I picked up my hatchet and did what I needed to do, grateful for the artificial tree snuggly stored in our garage.






I forgot about the garage adaption least you managed to keep it somewhat alive. I thought that ornament was going to be a valuable prized offed itself? Good stuff.
By: Cranky on December 18, 2013
That poor tree. What I hate is seeing those massive old trees that have lived for centuries be hauled into Rockefeller Plaza or Washington DC just to stand for a few weeks before being turned into sawdust. It seems like such a waste. The pine trees we planted as kids at my mom's house are now pretty big, so really if they just planted a tree at those locations in a decade or so they wouldn't need to kill an ancient tree every year for the sake of our vanity.
By: PT Dilloway on December 18, 2013
You are good person!!
By: Tabor on December 18, 2013
Cut "Christmas Trees" come from a tree farm. It provides additional income. Live trees can come landscape businesses and tree farms too. We've used live trees, but rather than bringing them indoors, we put it a patio door or large window to enjoy. It doesn't have to endure the rigors of temperature swings. I would enjoyed watching you man-handle that tree!
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 18, 2013
That's a good story. I mean, not for the tree so much, but in general.
By: Katy Anders on December 18, 2013
I am sure that you learned a lot and that next time your tree will do just fine -- in a box in the corner of the house where you keep it! ;-)
By: The Broad on December 18, 2013
As always, a good story, you old Christmas elf, you.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on December 18, 2013
This is actually the first year we haven't had a read tree in quite a few years. It's strange knowing I have to box it back up in a few weeks. :)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on December 18, 2013
Don't you just hate it when ornaments kill themselves?
By: fishducky on December 18, 2013
An article i read compared the pros and cons of real vs. artificial, and which was really better for the environment. They came down in favor of real trees, especially if your area recycles them (ours does).
By: mimi on December 18, 2013
amazing that the ornament lasted all those years-I love your stories! I'll have to write the story about how my Dad bought a live tree and all of us kids cried when he manhandled that pathetic 3' Blue Spruce into our home with 12' ceilings. We lived in this old white elephant of a house with an enormous living room that was so big (20'x40') it was used as the "Playroom" The tree looked so sad and forlorn. All of us including my mom stood there shocked. So my dad hauled me off to the Christmas tree parking lot and purchased a tree so huge and tall he had to cut 24" off the top to make it fit. The blue spruce tree got planted near the front door and it never did amount to much! Merry Christmas!
By: Kathe W. on December 18, 2013
One year my sister sent us a little Christmas tree to be planted when it was a bit warmer. X planted it, and it thrived. Then we moved and the last thing I saw as we drove away was that beautiful little tree. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 18, 2013
Tree killer! It's too bad that the tree didn't do better. Who knew trees were so hard to grow? Maybe there should be Christmas weeds. Those things have no trouble staying alive...
By: Lexa Cain on December 18, 2013
I've never known anyone who had much success with these living Christmas trees. I think you were brave for even trying. Merry Christmas. :)
By: Scott Cody Park on December 18, 2013
We've had the same artificial tree since 1989 (a really good one that we bought at a post-Xmas sale), and it still looks great, saving us money, aggravation, and the needless killing of a living being.
By: snowbrush on December 18, 2013
The ornament "offed" itself. How fragile are our memories.
By: Eva Gallant on December 18, 2013
I kind of like the idea of the tree and ornament having its on private Christmas celebration every year.
By: Hilary on December 18, 2013
Ah but at least you tried. Artificial is the way to go for those of us who still hug rough bark on occasion.
By: Akansas Patti on December 18, 2013
awww. sad but precious story.
By: TexWisGirl on December 18, 2013
now that was a fragile ornament....offed itself eh? You are truly a great story teller and I would have paid money to see you go after the tree.
By: Oma Linda on December 18, 2013
Great story. You did your best and it served it's purpose. I have a black thumb so I'd kill it within weeks if I tried that.
By: Bouncin Barb on December 18, 2013
What a sad, bittersweet story. Therefore, a great story.
By: Al Penwasser on December 18, 2013
...and there were such good intentions. Everybody had good intentions with this one. I do think your supplier was too optomistc to expect that tree to survive inside and then go outside again.
By: red on December 18, 2013
You got me. I thought CJ had hung an ornament on the tree to make it beautiful again. My grandma, uncles, and cousin ran a tree farm for 30 years. I have no issues with lopping off a live tree, enjoying it for several weeks, then tossing it in the pond as cover for perch and bluegill. Energy cycles through the ecosystem. Even the most beautiful tree can't live forever.
By: Val on December 18, 2013
Ah, the joys of a real Christmas tree. We used to always get a 'proper' one, but after years of picking needles out of the carpet we eventually submitted and bought an artificial one. So much easier. Another nice story.
By: Bryan Jones on December 19, 2013
A heart warming story with a surprise ending!
By: John on December 19, 2013
A tree that couldn't thrive and an ornament that didn't want to leave. That's the beginning of an interesting "bro" story eh?
By: Tom Cochrun on December 19, 2013
Only you could make me feel sorry for a Christmas tree and an ornament!
By: LL Cool Joe on December 19, 2013
I don't think those live trees have much of a chance to begin with. We have had artificial trees for about twenty years.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 19, 2013
What a sad little story...I never buy real trees as I, too, don't want to destroy a tree for the sake of 2 weeks of us using it for decoration. I like the idea of planting one but that isn't an option in our over forested yard. I am fine with using a pre-lit artificial tree and enjoying the look of it without the idea of killing a tree.
By: Cheryl P. on December 20, 2013

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