EACH YEAR AT this time, I like to -- off an essay in appreciation of the artificial Christmas tree.
The artificial tree gets a lot of bad press these days, yet it is so far superior to its real (or "natural") counterpart as to be almost laughable -- if this were a laughing matter.
Consider the hassles involved in the acquisition of a real Christmas tree. First you have to traipse into the freezing cold woods with an ax and risk returning with a bloody stub for a foot after neatly severing your ankle.
Or else you must go to the Safeway parking lot and mingle with a lot of strangers, many of them big, hearty, Chamber of Commerce types who will slap you on the back and say something to the effect of: "That's a hell of a spruce for 40 bucks, mister."
Whereas the owner of an artificial tree simply goes up to the attic and pulls out the big Pampers box conveniently marked "X-mas stuff" and does not pay a red cent.
Now maybe you're thinking: "Wait a minute. Isn't it freezing cold up there in the attic, too?"
Well, yes, now that you mention it. But you're only up there for about a minute, see. So there is a minimum of discomfort involved, and certainly no danger of losing a foot or a toe.
As far as actual setup is concerned, there is no beating the artificial tree.
With a real tree, you have to trim the base, fit it into the stand, make sure the damn thing is standing straight, trim the top branches, clip the top to make room for the star . . . My God, what an ordeal.
Me, I stick one color-coded branch in here, one in there, a couple at the top and bingo, it's time for eggnog.
A real tree also gives off a nauseatingly fresh and clean pine scent, which is fine for the first hour or so, but then reminds you of the front seat of a Dodge Dart with one of those air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror.
The artificial tree, though, has a musty, nondescript odor which always reminds me of the inside of a big Pampers box. And what evokes more memories of Christmases past than a big Pampers box?
As for visual beauty, why anyone would want a lush, green tree when you could have a scrawny silver one (which reflects the color of the drapes, by the way) is beyond me. Then again, there is no accounting for taste.
Perhaps what I love most about an artificial Christmas tree is that visitors to your home do not gush over it the way they do over a real one. And gushing is something we can all do with less of
during the holidays.
Coming across a real Christmas tree with all the trimmings, a visitor will say (if, for instance, your name is Evelyn): 'Oh, Evelyn, your tree is absolutely beautiful! Why, I'm not sure if I've ever seen such a stately, full Douglas fir since . . . well, since before I met Ted and when was that, 1962? His parents put up a beautiful tree, although your tree is even more . . ."
A visitor to my home, on the other hand, will gaze at the tree and (after a long, uncomfortable silence) stammer: "It . . . sort of tilts to the left."
"Yeah, she's a beauty, isn't she?" I'll say. "Pulled her out of the zTC Pampers box just the other day."
This is usually enough to bring the conversation to a merciful close, allowing everyone to sip their eggnog and get some well-deserved rest.
Usually by this point in the essay, the reader has been kept in suspense long enough and will simply burst if not told why my artificial Christmas tree is kept in a Pampers box.
Well, there's quite a story behind it. A Christmas story, actually. I remember it as if it were yesterday . . .
Originally the tree came in a big box marked Sears, or maybe it was Montgomery Ward.
Anyway, the Sears or Montgomery Ward box had side flaps that . . . no, wait a minute. It came in a Macy's box. Yes, I'm sure it was a Macy's box, since there was a Macy's not too far (five miles or so) from where we lived.
In any event, we kept the tree in the Macy's box until the side flaps fell off. Then we replaced it with a Pampers box, which was the only box we had that was large enough to hold the tree.
If you feel like passing that story on, please feel free.