I'll always have a real Christmas tree for a few reasons. One is that I would never be able to live it down if I ever got a fake Christmas tree, because once upon a time my mama proposed getting a fake Christmas tree. It was a good proposition; she's allergic, and fake Christmas trees are overall just so much easier. I was really young, somewhere between two and five is what I remember, and I was complaining to everybody that we weren't going to have a real Christmas tree. That's on me. I was also the kind of kid who almost ruined Santa for several other kids. I just wanted them all to know the truth! Santa is not real. Real Christmas trees are better. Everybody should know.
Of course, it makes no actual difference whether you have a real or fake Christmas tree, but the once-living green Christmas tree that slowly turns brown right before your eyes provides the more beautiful symbol, one worth holding on to even if you favor the fake Christmas tree. My family has always made a big deal of finding the perfect Christmas tree. Traditionally, it's a rich green Douglas Fir (they are softer and my mama is less allergic). We compromise on height and furriness and where in the living room it will go, and we smile and laugh, and we give up a preference or two in order to please one another, and every year it is an exercise in love.
Then we decorate it, which is quite the endeavor. First, of course, unfortunately, inevitably, the lights have to be untangled--a test in patience, but for the sake of brilliance. We dig out the ornaments that we have acquired throughout the year. The one from the time we spent Christmas in the RV, the one from the place we lived that I don't remember, the one my aunt gave us that is made from our family tartan, the copper moon-shaped picture frame that contains a photo of my father and me, which I always handle tenderly, and I put it on a strong branch because it weighs so much. And all the times from all the years and all the places and all the sadness, sentimentality, joy, is brought to one central location and put against a backdrop of stunning lights, however hard they were to untangle.
Christmas comes, we gather 'round the tree, take pleasure in giving and receiving, it comes and is gone, and then the tree sits and slowly dies. Eventually, once it has begun to turn brown, we slowly undress it, fondly remembering the day and each ornament. The ornaments are carefully wrapped, put back into boxes, and then forgotten until next year. But the tree is put on the side of the curb, or burned, or put somewhere to decompose. And the living tree, what became a symbol of love and giving and receiving and bearing the weight of family history, decomposes and is given back into the world, allowed to give rise to new life. That is only possible with a tree that once lived. A fake Christmas tree is put back into a box and forgotten, but the real one is absorbed back into the Earth, and how wonderful to give the symbol back instead of keeping it the attic one's mind. If anything, the process of a real Christmas tree is a stunning reminder.