One word comes to mind as I watch my husband and sons scramble over our extremely pitched roof, stringing lights over the precarious edge of our home: balance.
It’s hard to find during the holidays, isn’t it? I’ve yet to master the balance between magic and madness, that elusive equilibrium between what the season should be about (family, friends, and gratitude) and what it actually, quickly becomes about (overspending, overeating, and buttoning up your coat for yet another bothersome obligation).
Here’s one that no longer jingles my bells: I cannot bring myself to haul the family to a bustling parking lot, scout for the least-mangled tree, curse its $80 price tag, wrestle it into a stand, curse its asymmetry, argue about which unsightly side should face the wall, curse it for tilting, crawl underneath it to add daily water, live in fear of its flammability, and ultimately drag it, browned and battered, to the curb before vacuuming pine needles from the abused rug below.
I can’t do it. You can’t make me.
As a child, it was enchanting to have a huge, live tree in the house—no less astounding than if we’d dug a pond in the middle of the living room: How can this be? It’s magic!
But as an admittedly jaded grown-up—i.e., the one who must pay for it, clean up after it, and prevent its seemingly inevitable combustion—it kind of stresses me out. I can’t even look at our annual tree without thinking that it’s in death’s throes, fragile, parched, and drooping under the weight of my kids’ ceramic salutations to the season.
So this year, I decided to buy a fake tree—and if you have inflatable snowmen on your lawn, or battery-operated flickering candles on your mantle, then you really need to withhold judgment, m-kay?
Perpetually seeking the Holiday Without Hassle, I’ve already switched to gift bags, e-cards, and blinding LED icicle lights. Why not haul home a tree that offers more bling for my buck?
First, I did research. Turns out the artificial Christmas tree was invented in the 1930s by a company that made, ahem, toilet brushes. They’ve come a long way since then, and although they’re made of eco-evil PVC and may contain poisonous lead, real trees are doused in pesticides and schlepped in gas-guzzling trucks. So considering all the other guilt the season heaps upon us (I’m talkin’ to you, egg nog), I crossed “responsibility” off my list of tree-buying concerns.
Which is how I came to be staring, as I type this, at a gargantuan Madison Pine Tree (note: nature offers no such tree) with 700 garish lights the color of Dance Fever‘s migraine-inducing dance floor. And get this: The thing rotates on its stand. It’s a motorized monument to the tawdry spectacle that is Christmas.
But I’ll say this about hauling home my first faux fir: It was not hassle-free.
Catching the tail-end of a brief sale, we rushed to the store for a bargain bush, only to find it was out of stock. The second store was out, too, but agreed to sell us the floor model: boxless, without replacement bulbs or fuses, and stringed with icky cotton snow. Sigh. Fine.
Now instead of vacuuming up real pine needles, I’m sweeping up fake ones. Along with creepy clumps of faux snow. And I have a feeling I will spend the rest of my life obsessively bending and separating the 2,487 branch tips to fill any holes that might otherwise make the tree appear, well, lifelike.
Because this season, my schedule, my budget, and my diet won’t be balanced. But my damn tree will.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.