“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches…”

But when my wife and I hear those lyrics, while charming, we recall some harrowing memories. That’s because when we hear the carol about the fir’s evergreen quality of constancy and faithfulness, we can’t help but think of the many catastrophes we experienced erecting a real Christmas tree in our home.

We begin with “once” going to a tree farm to select a tree. I love my wife dearly, but we had to inspect every tree on the plantation before finally choosing “The Tree!” And even as I put saw to trunk she still was exclaiming, “Wait a minute, this one is better!” When we got the tree home the trunk was too thick for our holder and the tree itself was too tall to fit beneath our ceiling. This meant more sawing and trimming to finally get the sapling to fit in the house.

Our next tree problem occurred when we discovered that the “perfect” tree we brought home had an S-shaped trunk. It went into the holder okay but would not stand-up straight, not only leaning left or right, but falling over because it would not balance. I had to tie the balsam to a window sill on one side and to the wall on the other. A debate ensued whether it was better to put tinsel on the straps, drawing attention to them, or not decorating the bonds in hopes no one would notice them.

One year we read about a technique to keep a real tree fresher longer by putting sugar in the water in the tree stand. We reasoned, “If sugar is good, syrup would be even better.” We forgot that we had heating elements in the floor. The warm floor not only kept our tootsies comfortable but heated the syrup ‘n water as well. Whenever family and friends entered our home they asked, “Did you just have pancakes?” Then when we took the tree down, the holder broke and that syrupy mixture sank into our new carpeting. And the smell of pancakes lasted well into the new year.

I must admit, this next incident should not be blamed on having a real tree in the house, but one could argue it didn’t help alleviate the problem either. We already had a cat and dog, but we foolishly thought, why not add a guinea pig to the menagerie? Our mistake was not letting our two pets get acquainted with the new arrival prior to Christmas morning, however one might do that without some sort of incident. The “new guinea” was wrapped in a Christmas box “the night before Christmas” with plenty of airholes in it. It was one of the first presents our four youngsters were encouraged to open since the dog and cat anxiously were sniffing the contents. When the lid was removed pandemonium ensued. The newcomer ran up the tree with the dog and cat in hot pursuit. The tree fell over with the ornaments and remaining gifts tattered, torn and scattered throughout the room. Would the guinea have climbed a fake tree? Probably – anything to get away from it all!

Despite helping to sell Christmas trees for our neighborhood association with our pick of the lot, we decided no more real trees. “They aren’t worth the hassle, mess and danger of a fire,” we prudently proclaimed. So, we bought a real looking artificial tree. But, sorry to say, our tree woes didn’t disappear. The artificial tree evidently was so realistic the dog peed on it. Even the cat got in on the act after we spent hours decorating the tree with a creative tinsel arrangement of which we were so proud. Our kitty rearranged the tinsel in less than a minute with just a few swipes of her paws.

The final coup de grâce occurred when we were decorating our beautiful, safe artificial tree one year long after our children had moved away. We sat down to admire our work when I noticed I had forgotten to place the star on top. But instead of getting a chair or a step ladder like I always do to underscore the importance of safety, I grabbed the star and jumped on the arm of the easy chair next to the tree to reach the top. I lost my balance, fell into the tree and disappeared behind the chair. I broke the tree holder, dented the wall heating unit and absolutely destroyed my pride. After she saw I wasn’t hurt, my wife laughed so hard I thought she would have a stroke.

Environmentalists convincedly can argue that in the long run a real tree is better for our planet than an artificial one. And, along with Joyce Kilmer, I realize “only God can make a tree.” Nevertheless, this holiday season we will again simply and conveniently decorate our fake tree. I just have to remember to stand on a ladder when placing the star on top! Otherwise, bringing to mind the falling star incident educes waves of laughter from my wife. I can hear her now humming Perry Como’s 1957 hit song, “Catch a Falling Star.”

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer