Artificial or real —it's the seasonal take on the plastic or paper question.
Both serve the same purpose.
In the end both symbolize Christmas just like both of the latter carry goods.
I'm partial to artificial although I don't have a Christmas tree in my home. That may strike some of blasphemy to favor artificial trees but according to the American Christmas Tree Association from a survey the group conducted in 2017, 80 percent of people who have Christmas trees in their homes agree with me.
While I’m not a Scrooge groupie I am in the minority when it comes to having or not having a tree. The association says 79 percent of all American households — that’s 94 million homes by the way — will have either an artificial or a real Christmas tree this season.
My siding with artificial has a bit to do with cost. The National Christmas Tree Association likes pointing out the typical real tree costs $78 versus $95 for an artificial tree. But unlike the real tree, the artificial tree can be used for multiple years. The fake tree makers — that have a sadistic coloring and coding system to mark branches — contend a typical artificial tree has a useful life of at least 10 years to reduce the per season tree cost down to $10.
My preference obviously has nothing to do with the environment. Artificial trees are made of non-biodegradable polyvinyl chloride. It has the same ability to break down as Melmac dish ware from the 1950s given once it is buried in a landfill it will still be in pristine condition in the year 2525.
Real trees, on the other hand, are recycled into mulch. And while they are being grown, each tree absorbs an average of a ton a year in CO2 while an acre of Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people each day.
Logic should dictate that I'd take real over artificial.
But that leaves out the human factor.
As a kid I loved real trees. But that was before my older brother somehow assumed tree buying decisions after my father passed away.
Richard eventually earned a double major in architecture and engineering from San Luis Obispo at Cal Poly. That should give you a clue to how I was turned off to real trees.
The first year Richard was in charge of the Christmas tree search I climbed into the station wagon with my mom and Rich who was my oldest brother as an 8-year-old. My other brother Ron by that time knew better than to go looking for a Christmas tree with Richard calling the shots.
Lincoln had two Christmas tree lots. None of the offerings were to Richard's liking. So we headed to Roseville. There were seven or eight Christmas tree lots there. Again, none met his standard.
Mom humored Richard in part because it was the first Christmas after dad died. So a few nights later we went to Cal Expo to search the biggest Christians tree lot in the Sacramento region — Bob's Christmas Tree Land. After four hours and combing through easily several thousand trees we left empty handed. Richard was distraught. Mom reluctantly agreed to one last outing.
It started after mom got off work on a Saturday at 4 p.m. It ended six hours later after we had visited four tree lots in Sacramento before going back to Bob's Christmas Tree Land.
Mom finally lost her patience. It was either buy a tree or there would be no tree. Richard got the message. So we bought a tree and several sets of tree boughs as Richard said he wanted to make some wreaths.
Imagine my disappointment the next day when we still couldn't put up the tree. Richard was busy sawing off branches that weren't perfect and nailing on boughs that we had bought on the premise he was making wreaths.
The next year Mom wised up and bought a tree from a guy passing through town from Oregon. Richard though decided we had to wait until he had time to supervise the tree decorating five days later. It was left out in the backyard during that time. Did I mention Richard had a dog?
When we finally brought the tree into the house, we started noticing a stench as it warmed up. Rusty had used it as a fire hydrant. Let's just say it wasn't pine scent that filled the house.
It took Mom a couple more years of Christmas tree hell to join the dark side and buy an artificial tree.
Decorating the tree under Richard’s command was equally frustrating for me as a young kid. The engineer in him dictated a certain procedure right down to having to switch out light bulbs to make sure no color was repeated. That wasn’t just side by side but also up and down. If you’re starting to think it took an entire day to decorate a Christmas tree when Richard was in charge you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
By the time I turned 12 I no longer wanted to decorate the tree but Richard, of course, saw things differently. I was a little kid so I was supposed to help decorate the tree — his way of course and not mom’s way or even my way — and like it.
That meant tinsel had to be placed on precisely — strand by strand — as well as ornaments distributed in a detectable pattern year after year as if he were meticulously restoring a 19th century courthouse building and similar structures which is what he ended up doing for a living.
Growing up and moving out didn't end the debate about how one should decorate a tree. I found that to be true after I married.
I was accused of just draping lights on instead of wrapping them or — more precisely — meticulously weaving cords and light bulbs around the branches. It made no sense to me. Once you placed ornaments and tinsel on a tree you couldn't tell the difference.
I was told point blank I was strange for insisting it be done any other way. So I did what any other husband would do: I polled men and women at a church pancake breakfast. Five out of five guys said they draped lights while virtually every woman said they used the weave method.
So how does one deal with such a difference between the sexes?
The late Tom Dutart — who was once a neighbor — told me his secret. They had an artificial tree but he wasn't thrilled with his wife Linda's insistence every year that he was putting the lights on wrong by draping them.
So one year he grabbed one of his homemade brews, went out to the garage, and weaved the lights on the tree while carefully stapling each one in place.
Then at season's end, he wrapped the tree intact and hung it upside down from rafters in the garage.
That gave me another reason to like artificial trees.