Fake trees might fool the eyes, but not the nose

By Jayson Jacoby December 06, 2013 09:46 am

The traditional Christmas is under assault, and I fear the wounds will be mortal.

A cherished symbol of the holiday is being replaced by the ersatz concoctions of the chemists, who would swap the wild beauty of the snowbound forest for the antiseptic creation of the test tube.

If the genuine Christmas tree can’t survive then I fear the season’s decline in other areas is inevitable.

I can foresee the year when Muzak drowns out Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby on the hi-fi, when the celebratory dinner begins with dad plunging his carving knife not into a succulent turkey breast but into a glistening glob of tofu.

The Chia Pets of the future will be produced by 3-D printer, and The Clapper will be an iPhone app.

It’s possible that I’m overreacting.

My concern for the sanctity of the holy season is based on the results of the current survey question posted on the Herald’s website, www.bakercityherald.com.

In terms of statistical rigor this isn’t exactly a Gallup poll.

Still and all, the numbers both surprise and depress me.

The question is this: “Where does your Christmas tree come from?”

There are three choices:

• “Get fake one from attic”

• “Cut in the woods”

• “Buy it from a lot”

I suppose there are other possibilities but that trio of options seemed to me to cover the likely scenarios pretty thoroughly.

As of this writing, on Wednesday morning, the fake tree is polling like a Republican in the Deep South.

Out of 122 respondents, more than half — 64 — say their tree is fake.

Just 41 people cut their own tree, and the other 17 ply the civilized, but at least authentically green, rows of a commercial lot.

Had I been pressed to predict the outcome of the survey I would have rearranged those results, putting the fake tree in the rear as a minuscule minority.

I know the popularity of the imitation fir has grown.

My parents, once staunch traditionalists, switched a few years ago, as did my in-laws.

I even understand the allure.

Buying a fake tree pretty much eliminates the potential pratfalls, and occasional catastrophe, that go along with putting a recently living conifer in your living room.

It’s hard to get your rig stuck in a snowdrift when you own an artificial tree, for one thing, because most people store the thing in the attic or downcellar, neither place being prone to snowdrifts.

(Or accessible to rigs.)

Another advantage is that fake trees are well-balanced, the assembly line being rather more precise in its work than nature, which creates no two identical pines or firs.

Farm-raised trees are quite uniform in shape, to be sure, but you could tramp through the woods for a couple hours and never find a specimen that doesn’t have a gaping gap in its branch structure.

Unless you know your way around a plumb bob, this can cause problems.

One Christmas I failed to account for the disproportionate weight of the fully foliaged side of the tree and so I was awakened, sometime after midnight, by the sort of crash you associate with tornadoes or floods.

In fact my tree had toppled over, soaking the carpet with water and scattering ornaments and tinsel clear across the room.

I reset the tree but after that episode I never trusted it, not even after I had tied it off to the wall with an eyebolt and a bit of twine, as you might secure a horse that has a history of escaping its stall.

Besides being stable, fake trees don’t, as a rule, burn your house down.

I suspect you could ignite an artificial tree, assuming a generous supply of accelerant and a blow torch. But anyway it would take an awful lot more incendiary capacity than you’d get from, say, a malfunctioning string of imported Italian twinkle lights or an overloaded power strip.

None of these attributes, though, comes close in my view to making up for the fake tree’s deficiencies.

One of these is uniformity; the artificial tree never changes.

This isn’t necessarily a flaw, of course. Most families have a favorite collection of ornaments that they keep for decades or even for many generations.

But even these familiar pieces are special in part because each year we get to pick them up and figure out which branch offers the perfect perch. There is it seems to me a minor thrill in this annual selection process, which so similar yet so different. But then it is the accumulation of such small pleasures that for so many of us elevates Christmas above the other holidays.

There is much else that I relish about cutting my own Christmas tree.

I like to get out in the cold air and trudge through the snow. I enjoy the search, and in particular that instant when you see, across an expanse of white slope or in the midst of a thicket, the ideal tree.

(Or at least it looks to be so initially; often as not it’s the third or fourth “ideal” tree that ends up in the pickup bed.)

The great failing of the fake tree, though, is the one that the chemists are hapless to replicate.


No laboratory, so far as I can tell, has by even the most charitable of standards imitated the pungence of a fresh cut fir.

Their best efforts fool the nose no more than saccharine does the tongue.

The perfume of the real tree is ephemeral, of course.

Your nose adjusts too soon, in the same way that you’re surprised when a visitor walks into your home and comments on the aroma of a cake hours after you’ve taken it from the oven and ceased to notice the pleasant scent.

But for the first day or so after you’ve wedged the Christmas tree’s trunk into position the house seems an altogether different place, refreshed as it were by the redolence of balsam, just in from the clean outdoors.

A fake tree, if it can be said to smell of anything, is apt to be a trifle dusty.

I don’t mind cleaning up after a real tree. Once you’ve used a vacuum to collect the dropped needles the appliance becomes for a time an effective, albeit loud, air freshener, spreading the odor of fir throughout the house.

The average house requires enough dusting as it is without making it a Christmas tradition.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.