I fucking love Christmas. I do. I love everything about it. The carols, the decorations, the weather, the movies and tv shows, giving gifts, the food, hell—sometimes—even the Church service. But I’m a traditionalist. And by that I mean, I like Christmas the way it was when I was a kid. I like an old fashioned Christmas with all the trimmings. Let me explain.
There are rules, so let me start with rule number one.
The Christmas Tree.
A fake Christmas tree has about as much likelihood of making you happy as that fake fireplace on your TV has of keeping you warm. You might as well be that uppity couple who live next door to the Griswolds, Todd and Margot, who live in an antiseptic, plastic existence and who appreciate nothing about the spirit of Christmas.
And I don’t want to hear that you’re allergic. Get behind me Grinch!
There’s a lot that goes into a Christmas Tree. For starters it is so much more than its shape. It’s the smell, the way your hands are sticky after putting it up, and even the mess. You have to water them, even though it doesn’t seem to do much good and your pets think it’s their personal water bowl for the season no matter how much you yell at them. They shed like a nervous Chow and when you’re done with them they all look like a plucked chicken. But that’s not the point.
The effort is half the experience when it comes to a Christmas Tree, so first, you have to go buy your tree.
Traditionally, for my family, this is done Thanksgiving weekend. Usually Friday or Saturday. I don’t really care where you buy it, but it’s nice if you buy it from a local guy who makes some money for his family for the holidays. If you’re going to buy your tree from IKEA or Home Depot, you might just as well sell your soul to the devil and get a fake, silver-coated, plastic tree and call it a night—Margot.
Your best bet is always the guy in a lot. He has a name like Stan, Fred, Hank, or Joe. Not a lot of Tristens or Aidens selling you Christmas Trees. Not where I live anyway.
A couple of guys in Carhartt coveralls, standing around a 50-gallon drum of burning pallet wood and tree trimmings, ready to trim your tree, wrap it up, and strap it to the roof of your station wagon. What did you think those rails up there were for anyway?
You tip those guys by the way.
The Christmas Tree Lot has been a mainstay of American Christmas since the 40’s. In the city, it’s an empty lot. In the suburbs its often the parking lot of a supermarket. But whatever, it’s a little area, often surrounded by chain link fence and filled with Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes. It smells good and they have twinkly lights, and usually Christmas carols playing on a shitty radio. If you’re really lucky, they have a dog hanging around.
Most people have their favorite type of course. Douglas fir. Balsam fir. Fraser Fir. Noble fir. It’s a lot of fir and believe me, no one can tell them apart. That’s why they have those little tags.
Each has it’s supporters and detractors. This one is prettier. This one lasts longer. This one is more open. This one is more dense. Finer needles. Longer needles. Whatever. I really don’t give a shit.
Find one you like, and that fits your house, and take that motherfucker home. But keep in mind that choosing the right size is rather important.
I don’t think I can stress this enough.
I once had an apartment in Philadelphia that was two stories. The first story was actually the second story of the building and you entered from the first floor. The first story of the apartment had maybe 15 or 20 foot ceilings and my bedroom was on the third floor.
You probably don’t care that much about the layout of my apartment. It was a big room.
I was in my twenties, and previously my apartments had been small, so consequently, I’d had little Charlie Brown trees. But since I had the opportunity, with what I considered to be an enormous apartment, I bought a huge tree. It was a fucking Griswold tree and I was proud.
While the height wasn’t a problem, once I had the tree set up in its stand and cut the twine, it really was like Christmas Vacation, only I didn’t break any windows. It did, however, take up an inordinate amount of space and quite literally dwarfed the apartment. It looked like the tree from Rockefeller Center had taken up residence in my now quaint, Philadelphia apartment. It was rather embarrassing to be honest. I didn’t want people to come over.
They would walk up the stairs, see it, and say, “Wow, uh, that’s a big tree.”
So, like many things, ladies and gentlemen, size really does matter, but bigger isn’t always better.
When it comes to decorating your tree I have two schools of thought. In fact, when my kids were younger, we used to have two trees. One they could fuck up, with their handmade ornaments, blinking, colored lights, and a tacky angel on top. And one that my wife would decorate with white lights, red bows, natural berries, and a few simple Christmas balls. Every year she would change it up. But it was always natural looking. Always simple. Elegant. It literally lit up the room.
I didn’t really give a shit what the other tree looked like, but the kids liked it, and I liked them, so it was all good. We put that one in the TV room.
I think I lied just there. We never let the kids have colored, blinking lights. I fucking hate them. That can give you an epileptic seizure. I’m not kidding. Do yourself a favor. Get small, non-blinking, traditional white lights. It’s all you need.
You’ll thank me.