To tree or not to tree? That is the Christmas question.
Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the sprigs and needles of outrageous conifers or to go artificial and end a sea of troubles?
Few things are less practical than a Christmas tree -- a real tree, that is. Let's review: At some point before Christmas (traditions vary on this) we bring a dying tree into our homes. The tree, often cut weeks before we buy it, might be temporarily fooled by the tray of water we stick its trunk in, but make no mistake, it is expiring.
The term "evergreen" no longer applies.
Despite annual efforts to find the "perfect" tree, we always fall short. Mother Nature, after all, is no Martha Stewart.
The tree that looked full on the lot can turn out to be sad and spindly when we get it inside. Or it might be bushy and green on one side and practically bare on the other side. Or what looked like a noble crown might actually be just a pathetic twig.
Wrestling the tree into the house is an invitation to puncture wounds and hands covered with sap. Nothing known to man will remove the sap.
The trunk of the tree always is too large or too crooked to fit in the tree stand. We first try to solve this problem by hacking away at the trunk with a kitchen knife. This never works, but we try it every year anyway.
Eventually, we go to the shed and get a saw or a hatchet and shave down the trunk as we should have in the first place.
Once we have the tree firmly fastened in the stand, we step back to admire our work -- and watch as the tree falls to the floor, spilling water from the stand. We lift the tree back up, adjust the screws in the stand and watch the tree fall over again.
Foul language and dozens of adjustments will be required to make the tree stand upright.
Now it is time to decorate the tree. We haul the ornaments down from the attic or up from the basement, taking extra care with the hideous ones our children made when they were tots.
Sometimes, small children help trim the tree, in which case most of the ornaments will be bunched on one limb, three feet from the bottom of the tree. If two small children are involved, there will be a fight over the ornaments.
No household has enough ornaments to fill in the empty spot with no limbs on it we failed to notice when we went looking for the perfect tree.
Only half the strings of lights we bought last year work this year. It isn't as bad as the old days when, if one light burned out, the whole string went dark. Still, it necessitates a trip to the store for more lights -- half of which won't work next year.
The fact that there is a tree inside the house will not be lost on pets. Cats will regard the dangling ornaments as personal playthings. Dogs are likely to knock the tree over while sniffing it.
The tree will continue to shed mounds of needles until we finally strip it of ornaments and throw it into the street to be collected by city crews.
So, with all the trouble and effort involved in erecting a real tree in the house, why not buy one of the beautiful, realistic-looking artificial trees that can be easily assembled and disassembled and used year after year? Why put up with all the mess and distress of a real tree when we can pop down to our favorite big-box store and buy a tree that really is perfect and really was designed by Martha Stewart?
Well, this is why: It's the smell. It's that heady, green, intoxicating perfume of Christmas that emanates from a real tree. It's the smell that instantly conjures up memories of every Christmas we've ever celebrated, every pristine snowfall we have ever witnessed, every yearning for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, every moment of breathless anticipation of Christmas morning.
Nothing can reproduce that vivid aroma, the distilled fragrance of Christmas -- not even Martha Stewart.
Looks like we'll be getting a real tree again this year.