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My favorite childhood Christmas picture was taken outside in front of my Grandma Allie’s house. I’m standing with an older girl cousin, both of us dressed in our Sunday go-to-meeting winter coats, little fur collars and all that. We’re shiny and smiling in that black and white Kodak moment, and I’m holding my new doll for all to see. But, look closer; I have on bedroom shoes! Little moccasin-style things with fur around the top. Had to have been left by Santa; why else would Mom let me wear them to church?
Every year, whether we’re aware of it or not, we create or destroy our personal Christmas traditions. Do everything the same way every year, and it’s tradition. Forget something, or decide it’s too much trouble, tradition destroyed. But one tradition we can really fool around with is the Christmas tree. Over the course of my life, there has been every kind of green fuzzy tree imaginable decorated in the living room. Pines of all kinds, firs, cedars, and now I even have a feather tree. The one thing I will not do is take my Christmas tree out of a box!
When deciding which evergreen will grace your holidays, you might consider a living tree, one that can be planted after the season is over. Despite the “live trees” signs you see everywhere at this time of year, a just-cut Scotch pine is not alive. It will look good for a couple of weeks, but it will soon turn brown and drop its needles. It’s dead, folks. Instead of going to a tree farm, go to a nursery and buy a real living tree, with its roots wrapped in burlap. Enjoy it during Christmas, and then create a new tradition: plant the tree on New Year’s Day.
In addition to allaying pangs of guilt during the holidays–at least those related to cutting down trees–there is another benefit to hanging your handmade ornaments on a living specimen: variety. The conifer selection at a nursery is considerably broader than the one at most Christmas tree lots, so you don’t have to settle for the same kind of tree that’s in all the neighbors’ living rooms. Eastern white pine, spruce, blue cedar-they all show off ornaments in a new way.
Although a living Christmas tree requires no more care indoors than a cut one, it does demand some forethought. You must think about where it’s going after the holidays.
Choose a sunny spot, preferably away from mature trees, which will compete with it forsun and water. Remember, too, that some conifers attain heights of more than one hundred feet. Pick a tree that has not dropped many needles and has a solid, tightly wrapped root ball. Handle carefully to avoid splitting or damaging it. Oh, and you will need a wheelbarrow; some root balls can weigh thirty pounds or more. Acclimate your tree by storing it in a sheltered place for a week or so before moving it into the warm house. Do the same before planting it outside. Check the root ball every day while inside, keeping it moist the whole time. And do not keep the tree indoors for more than ten days, or it will begin to show signs of stress. After the holidays are over, it will be a living keepsake. Eastern hemlock, Japanese cedar, and blue spruce are all good choices for an addition to your Christmas arboretum. And they all smell wonderful in the house.
Whether it’s a majestic fir or a delicate pine sapling on a tabletop, the ornament-laden tree is our most enduring, and endearing, holiday symbol. It’s a gathering place for the family, and sets the stage for gift-giving and celebrations. Evergreens seem to represent the triumph of life over death, and are sometimes adorned with apples to symbolize the tree of paradise. Whatever is in your box of decorations, it takes on new life and meaning when displayed on the Christmas tree. Add a new tradition to your list, and in doing so, preserve each precious Christmas morning for years to come.