Whitesburg KY

Why the artificial tree?

Putting up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend has been a tradition in Loretta’s and my little family for nearly four decades.

Points East

My mother didn’t allow us to do that very often when I was growing up because she considered a dying pine or cedar tree propped up in a room where the only heat source was an open fireplace to be a fire hazard. I recall a few times when we were allowed to put one up earlier than normal in “the hall” located between our kitchen and living room.

“The hall” was actually larger than most modern bedrooms and had originally been intended to serve as a foyer/coat room for a big two-story log home. Somewhere along the way, before I was born, the home had been remodeled and the foyer had become “the hall”. It was actually a spare room that frequently doubled as a guest bedroom even though it had no heat source beyond whatever it stole from its adjoining rooms.

In any event, “the hall” was usually too cold in late December to be of much utility through Christmas because there were four little boys who worried that Santa Claus would be in such a hurry to get out of that cold, dark room that he might forget to leave something. Far better, we surmised, to postpone decorating the tree, if that’s what it took to appease Mom, and have it in a location that wouldn’t insult the red-suited fat man.

By the time I was in high school my younger brothers had long since figured out the Santa ruse and the novelty of heading to the woods and fields in search of the perfect pine or cedar tree had also worn pretty thin. Mom found a good deal on an artificial tree that we could put up any time we wanted. It was white and didn’t look anything like a Christmas tree should, but it still served the purpose and allowed our mom to sleep as well in December as she did during the rest of the year.

When Loretta’s and my children were young we did make a big deal of searching out the perfect tree on farms, fields and woods owned by various friends and neighbors. I recall times when we’d be out scouting well before Thanksgiving to find a tree that we could harvest later.

I also admit that I enjoyed the hunt as well as, if not more than, the kids. There is no doubt in my mind that our tree hunts were some our very best family bonding events.

Prior to 1988 or ‘89, shortly after the first of the year, I would haul our tree and oftentimes our neighbors’ to one of the numerous farm ponds where I was allowed fishing privileges. Nothing that I know of works better as a fish attractor in hot weather than Christmas trees submerged the previous winter. In fact, if you do have a natural tree this year, check with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and it will take it off your hands so it can be placed in a public lake to serve that very purpose.

However, I used the last “live” tree we had, more than 25 years ago, to perform an experiment that frightened me so badly that we have not had one since. I’d heard or watched news reports of several house fires that were attributed to Christmas trees so I decided, after taking ours down, to see what sort of fire it would make. We’d had a seven- or eight-foot cedar up for over five weeks before disposal time rolled around.

I’m not sure what I expected and I know for sure that I did not expect the instantaneous fireball explosion that occurred when I touched my cigarette lighter to the edge of the tree. To this day I don’t know how I avoided being seriously burned. As it turned out I only suffered singed eyebrows, lashes, hair and the total loss of a very nice toboggan. Had the tree caught fire inside our home there is little doubt in my mind that we’d have lost it and everything in it.

When I related the story to a friend, he told me that he never used cedars for Christmas trees and that pines would not explode like that.

So I called one of our neighbors, an elderly lady for whom I had cut a nice Scotch pine more than two weeks after we had erected our tree. She still hadn’t taken hers down so I asked if I could try the same experiment. I had sense enough by then (once burned, twice shy) to first light some wadded up newspaper and set it ablaze before standing back several feet and tossing the pine on it. The result was not as violent as our cedar, but it was still a fireball explosion that my friend later told me caused her to have nightmares.

Ever since that time we have had an eight-foot artificial some sort of fir. We are using the same one this year that we have for the last 10 and Loretta says that, after this year, it goes to the dump because it’s getting too banged up.

I still have to pinch the needles to tell that they are fake. It still looks perfectly fine to me and the “banged up” aspect only makes it, in my opinion, look a bit more natural. But my opinion is considered totally useless when my wife is considering home décor.

A few years ago, after taking it down I took one small limb outside to see if I could set it afire. After holding the lighter to it for several seconds the needles didn’t come ablaze or even melt. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is far more important than how it looks.

Leave a Reply