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The Greatest Gift(s)

Christmas Tree Farm Massacre

Sometime before Thanksgiving, Jason wondered if we should consider getting an artificial Christmas tree this year. 

I looked at him like he'd sprouted a second head, and that second head was suggesting that we go vegan, give the dogs away, and consider getting an artificial Christmas tree this year. 

We were both raised in Artificial Tree Households -- my mom told me I was allergic to real trees; his mom couldn't stand the needles and mess -- and our mutual dislike of the fake trees was something we discussed during our engagement. I would take some Claritin and we would be a Real Tree Household. Our first real grown-up rejection of our upbringing. 

Then my in-laws generously gifted us with their giant (and super expensive) fake tree and most of their ornaments. And because I didn't want to offend them with my Controversial Tree Views (on top of not going to church! and registering as a Democrat!), we dutifully used it for our first couple Christmases, hauling it from one rental apartment to another. I have no memory of where we even stored the thing in a few of those places, but after we bought our condo in DC I said ENOUGH WITH THE FAKE TREE. I gave the tree to a coworker and we've had a Real Tree every Christmas since.

(And I never needed the Claritin.)

The Real Tree became even more of a thing once we had kids, and we upped the ante by rejecting the parking lot trees and trekking out to a tree farm to cut our own. And now, this year, out of the blue,  Jason's like, "eh, maybe that's all kind of a pain and a fake tree would be easier?"

Well, yes, it IS a pain and a fake tree WOULD be easier, but STILL It's what we do! It's tradition! Noah wrote us a book about getting our tree at the farm! THIS IS IMPORTANT TO OUR CHILDREN. HOW DARE YOU SIR. 

And so I won, and we went out to find a Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

And it was miserable and everyone hated it and no one had even the tiniest bit of a good time, including me. 

The first two places we went had zero decent or appropriately sized trees. Noah got carsick from all the driving. Ike kept announcing he had to go to the bathroom five minutes after we left any place with a bathroom. Ezra wanted hot chocolate and sunk into a grumpy tween snit when I told him to wait until after we got our tree. I suggested we cut our losses and get a tree from the lot at the YMCA five minutes from our house, but unfortunately all the guilt I'd heaped on my husband about the fake tree suggestion meant he was Unbelievably Steadfastly Determined that we were going to cut that motherfucking tree down at a motherfucking tree farm, so Help Him God. And so we drove deeper and deeper into the Maryland countryside in search of a tree farm that actually had, you know, trees

We found one, finally, along with literally every other Real Tree Household on earth, because it was mobbed. Absolute chaos. There was a line to park, a line for saws and tree sleds, a line to get your tree shaken/tied up, and then a SUPER long line to pay. But they had trees. So we marched on in search of the perfect tree.

And we all found one! Different ones. Everyone got their heart set on a specific tree and/or wanted to be the person who "found" our tree. Noah actively disliked every tree that we considered save for the one he liked, despite it having a huge bald spot right in the center. Ike fell in love with a tree that was much, much too wide for our family room, and then grew increasingly distressed watching other families walk by and reject it as well. "They're hurting its feelings!" he cried. Ezra swore he'd seen the perfect tree but now couldn't remember where it was, but he knew it was 100% totally better than whatever tree we were currently looking at. At some point I tripped and hurt my stupid ankle.

Finally, Jason just pointed at a tree and said, "That one. We're getting this one. Everybody just shut up and deal with it."


I didn't even bother asking them to pose for a photo in front of the tree. We'd already hit peak We Just Need To Get Out Of Here Without Killing Each Other at least 45 minutes ago.


Ike counted the tree's rings while Jason went to went to go fight someone to the death for one of the tree sleds. He was never seen from again.

No, much, MUCH later he returned to where Ike and I sat guarding our felled tree. "I thought Ezra and Noah were with you," we both said at the same time, and then did nothing about it. They'd turn up eventually, right? Or could befriend some helpful forest creatures?

Jason got in line to pay for the tree and I found the rest of my children hovering around the hot chocolate stand. I realized I didn't have any cash, so in order to keep my promise to Ezra and get them each a 50-cent cup of hot chocolate, I had to also buy them a Gatorade, Pirates' Booty, a package of cookies and a random Christmas ornament shaped like a flip flop in order to hit the $10 minimum for credit card transactions.

There was no one around to help us tie the tree to the top of our car, so Jason and I heaved the thing up ourselves and did a semi-incompetent job of securing it. I think we kind of panicked because there was a small mob of people hovering nearby in hopes of snagging our tree sled and we really had to get out of there before zombie violence broke out.

We drove home in mostly silence, other than Ike announcing that he needed to go to the bathroom again. Ezra spilled his hot chocolate. I broke out in hives all over my hands and face from touching the tree.


The tree Jason picked is enormous and entirely too big for our space, because I guess after living among the trees for so long we all lost all sense of size and proportion.  




And that's the story of our Real Tree and our very Real Family Holiday Story, the kind of story that Instagram probably doesn't want you to know about. 


And just think! I get to take this all down and haul the tree out to the curb in like, a week. Meanwhile, I'll be sweeping up stray pine needles for the next six months. Merry Christmas, suckers. 

P.S. Our smol bonus tree, that is also Real, that  Jason brought home from the grocery store, either out of more guilt or to really stick it to me, as I now have needles to deal with in two rooms vs. just one. 

I told Jason that if we do this again next year we should maybe possibly consider getting an artificial tree.



Sue W

Why is Noah almost as tall as your tree?! Maybe next year you should just decorate him!


Hurray for tradition!

Cristin McCloud

We got the fake tree this year. I can’t lie, it’s awesome.


So glad I broke down and got the fake tree a few years ago. Sure, it's a pain to put up and sat in our living room for like a week before I finally got it put up last weekend. Last night we put lights on it. We may finish decorating by Christmas.


Our friends got a great fake one at Costco that is pre-lit and ridiculous, worth it. Mine was a $27 one from a department store and it looks as cheap, but I put outdoor lights on it an you can see them from the moon so no one notices the very fake ness of the tree.


Love this!! So we are on team real tree with no family drama. We get our tree at Costco each year. They are amazing and cheap (but definitely no instagram worthy shots of a family experience).


I miss the smell of my parents’ real trees, but my husband has major scent allergies and I barely have my shit together, so we invested in an expensive fake tree that looks quite realistic and is prelit. It’s been wonderful and lasted 15 years. I just bought a new one this year after muddling through with cobbled-together light strings on two sections of the old one. It’s still in the box in the living room, but Is. Going. Up. this weekend, GDI.


Oh, Ike, I totally get it. Things I feel bad for: trees that are not chosen as Christmas trees, pumpkins that don't get made into jack o'lanterns, toys that don't get bought as Christmas gifts, buildings that used to be homes and are now doctors' offices...

Empathy is a super power, but it's hard to handle sometimes!

Laura Beth

A couple of years ago my husband and I started a tradition called Go Cut Down a Tree While the Kids Are At School. He and I get the romantic, sentimental experience or pretending we’re in a Hallmark movie, and the kids just come home to a real tree in the living room. No one whines, no one argues, and we drink hot chocolate from the pantry.


For years my husband refused to consider a real tree, which was my family's tradition. It was OK because our apartment was small and we just used the tree a previous renter had left in our storage space. But then we got a house and Free Apartment Tree looked small and sad in our bigger space. Then last year he said "Let's get a real tree!" and I wondered for what sin he was trying to make amends. This year I got sick and begged to just put up a fake tree, but while I was passed out he hauled our kids to a tree farm and came back with both kids and a tree.


Here in the PNW there have been a ton of news stories about how 10 years ago there was a Christmas tree sapling shortage, which meant a ton of farms didn't have many trees this year, and my area is a huge producer of them. Perhaps the shortage was nationwide, and that's why it was so hard to find one.


Try the real, lot tree. When you just have to pick, hoist, and go, the experience is much less frustrating. Plus I understand it is cheaper than do it yourself.


This is cracking me up. I have been Team Real Tree for all of my 45 years (with the exception of one year that I decided I didn't want to do much decorating for Christmas so I got one of those Crab Pot Trees and popped a star on top), but this year I began truly contemplating getting a fake one for the first time. However the nice-looking fake ones are pricey, plus I was sure I would really miss the real tree smell and experience. Meanwhile December is ticking away and I've done some other decorating, but still haven't had a chance to get the tree. I was discussing this with my mom and she said her friend had a really nice, tall fake tree that bothered her because the bottom lights were brighter than the top, so she bought a second one and would give me the first tree. FINALLY finished decorating completely on something like December 12 but, because the tree is fake, I can leave this bad boy up as long as I want! And I've discovered I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything except having to water the tree and sweep up needles every day. Not saying I won't ever have a real one again, but this works for me right now.


We went “team fake tree” in 2012 and it’s been mostly awesome. They still shed but not nearly as much as a real tree. I learned quickly to wear long sleeves and gloves or I get scratched to hell putting the thing up. Some years we feel like having the real tree experience so we leave fakey in the basement and get a tree from the cute little tree lot that’s a few blocks from our house. I do miss the smell of a real tree this year. Merry Christmas!


Your tree is lovely and thank you so much for this True Story of Real Christmas, because my husband took my kids to get a tree two Sundays ago (not far; just the local fire dept that sells them for charity) and it ended up with the 13yo not speaking to any of us - even me! I wasn't even there! - for three days and now the tree is sitting undecorated because husband made the rookie mistake if saying "We'll take the tree your sister chose and you can choose the decorations" and now 13yo's "choosing" is to not decorate it at all and ... well, we have a naked tree this year. So thank you for letting me tell that story.


Your tree is beautiful. Also, like the person somewhere above me says, real trees from lots are lovely and the experience smells just as good.

Kelly Skelton

Holy shit that tree is big! Good thing you bought that flip flop ornament to help fill it up. Thank you for this post, I needed a good laugh.


We struggled to find one at all and ended up at Home Depot, much to our great shame and chagrin. Fun fact, the 2008 recession is to blame for the smaller crop of trees this year!


Thank you so much. That’s sounds like 99% of what happens to our family every time we leave the house. My husband thinks there is something wrong with us, but like, it’s just life right? Sigh. It’s not like the pics online.


I live in the mountains with tree farms minutes away, including one owned by a former coworker and manned by former 3rd grade students of mine turned into strapping young adults. But It’s been hit or miss the last few years - drought caused bad crops, we got rained out. So we went to a lot, got freaked out by the prices, and ended up at Home Depot for half the price and none of the whimsy, but dang, it’s just as pretty.


Safety tip: I'd never heard this before. but the FDNY recommends that you only keep a real tree indoors for a couple of weeks. They said that when the needles start seriously dropping, it's a sign that the tree has dried out and has become a greater fire hazard.


We've always been a Real Tree Family that goes to U-Cut places, but last year we drove around for hours without finding a tree because all of the U-Cut places were already closed (part of the tradition is to do it right before Christmas since we've got a pair of December birthdays and the tree goes up after the birthdays). We ended up decorating the IKEA drying rack. It looked pretty festive, there was plenty of room for presents under it, and trees are hard to come by again this year, so I think that's our tradition now.

Emilia Hald

We went with an artificial tree a few years ago after I developed a severe allergy to pine nuts and we decided it was better to play safe. And I am happy I only have to drag it downstairs and fluff before decorating rather than dragging three small children to a tree lot or a u-cut place. I have fond memories of getting trees from the lot the Boy Scouts manned in our town. The lot that my husband worked as a Boy Scout before I knew him. So he'd had enough of hauling trees around too.

Dawn R

Next year get yourself to a Whole Foods post haste. They have gorgeous very fresh Frazier firs for $59.99. They cut the bottom and put it in netting and tie it to the top of your car. I went and picked the tree by myself with no help from anyone. Much better option than a family trip. And everyone in my family is allergic to pines but no one has any problem with the fir trees. They are a little more hypoallergenic believe it or not. Plus bonus real trees are biodegradable and can be recycled. I shudder to think of all those lighted fake trees sitting in our landfills for years once the lights go out and people throw them away.

Amy in StL

Artificial trees aren't easier, they're just a different flavor of suck. I grew up with a real tree and I still trek to the same lot deep in the city to get my tree that I went to with my dad. I put up artificial trees for a charitable organization every year and I hate those trees. I always pull the pieces out in the wrong order, then I have to get all the branches in the right orientation and fluff each damn one out so it doesn't look bare. The pre-lit ones we have donated all have a burned out section, so I have to string lights on those and then it's time to decorate. Oh and they shed little plastic needles that I have to sweep up after decorating. Your kids will always remember the tradition of a real tree, stick with it. Fake trees are gross plastic!


I just love this Christmas story. So true! May we all find solidarity in our Christmas disasters. Please tell me that at one point, Jason turned to you and said: "Take a look around you, Ellen. We're at the threshold of hell!" This is just life. If it wasn't the tree expedition it would have been something else that turned out like this. Please never buy a bunch of sweatshop plastic from China and call it a tree! But you could go to a parking lot next year. I think that would be OK.


One of my fondest Christmas memories from growing up is the one time my mom sent my dad out to get a tree himself, he came back with the biggest damn tree any of us had ever seen. We had a living room with 20 foot ceilings and it went up almost 2/3 of the way I swear. We had to anchor the top to the wall so it wouldn’t be unstable. I’ll always remember it.

Amy A

Buy the pre-lit artificial tree and use Scentsies - they smell just like real pine trees. Stick one or two in the fake one and you get to experience the smell of a real tree with none of the hassle.

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