Few things can be as dividing in a family as the selection of The Perfect Christmas Tree. Battle lines are drawn, weapons are deployed, and the winner takes all. One can smell the blood lust in the air (around this time of year, blood lust smells like those scented cinnamon pine cones).
My family was (and still is) firmly entrenched in the “Real” camp, so every year we took the annual pilgrimage to Frank’s Nursery and Crafts to find The Perfect Christmas Tree. My memories of picking out Christmas trees have pooled into one collective memory: it is dark outside, and very cold. Gusts of wind slice through our coats, hats, and mittens. No one is happy. It is not fully snowing, but there is moisture of some kind- maybe sleet? frozen rain?-in the air. (Note to all the southern readers: Yes, snow is beautiful for the first six hours, and then it turns into a grey sludge. It is not amazing. It is not fun. It is cold and wet and makes a huge mess and turns everyone into the Worst-Driver-The-World-Has-Ever-Seen.)
In the Midwest, it is dark by 4:30 in the afternoon around Christmas time. As picking out a Christmas tree is a family activity, we would go in the evening to accommodate my father as his boss insisted he work during the day and not ride around, picking out Christmas trees. Now that my sisters and I are all grown up, he no longer has to attend the Annual Pilgrimage. (I totally blame him for the demise in the quality of my parent’s trees.)
In the dark, all the trees look the same. In the cold, wet dark, no one cares what the tree looks like anyway. I can remember going outside, looking at the same damn tree over and over again (to be fair, it might have been several different trees. But, seriously, who could tell?).
Once we reached a quorum of family members with numb extremities, we would go inside to defrost and ‘look at ornaments’. I think my parents thought that we would be better behaved due to hypothermia, but we were not. If anything, we saved energy by going into a sort of hibernation mode, much like bears do in the winter months. As soon as we would defrost, all of the energy would hit us, like a shot of adrenaline. I remember running through aisles as fast as I could with total disregard for the numerous delicate- and highly breakable- ornaments on display. (I also remember eating lots of candy canes, which I am sure contributed to the perfect storm of overly excited children surrounded by breakable things.)
After a few minutes of running around, we were warm enough to again brave the elements, and so we headed back outside and repeated the cycle of staring at the same trees from different angles trying to determine if it was, in fact, The Perfect Christmas Tree…