Christmas in the Pine Tree State

By Elizabeth Hebert | Dec 17, 2015

It was our first Christmas in Maine and we were hosting a holiday party at our home. The day before the party, my husband, Dan, went into the basement, or “down cellar,” as some would say — and dragged our fake Christmas tree upstairs.

“Wait,” I said as Dan began assembling the made-in-China faux spruce. “We can’t put that up; we live in the Pine Tree State now! What will people think?”

It seemed a little like driving a Toyota in Detroit or going vegan in Texas cattle country.

“We need to go buy a real Christmas tree,” I insisted. “We can't deprive some Christmas tree farmer in Aroostook of his livelihood. Think of the children!”

Dan sighed, dragged the imposter back downstairs, and we went out to get an authentic Christmas tree.

As a military family, we moved 12 times in 20 years and about 10 years in Dan decided to buy an artificial tree instead of trying to find a decent tree at duty stations ranging from Hawaii to Italy.

In addition to simple assembly, a benefit of a fake is that you never have to think about the timing of putting up the tree. Therefore, it did not occur to me that 7:00 on a Friday night a week before Christmas was not the ideal time to shop for a fresh tree.

All of the “cut your own” tree farms were closed, the tree sale for charity at the fire station had long since come and gone. Our only option was the local Aubuchon hardware store.

We pulled the car up to the stack of trees in the parking lot. The frigid weather made leisurely shopping unappealing, and the faint light coming from the store windows made closely assessing each tree impossible, so I stayed in the car and shopped through the partially open window.

Dan randomly pulled a specimen from the stack of medium-sized trees. “What about this one?” he hollered over the brisk wind.

“Yeah, sure, fine,” I said, hoping Dan wasn't going to make me get out of the car to help tie the tree to the roof. He did. As I complained, he said: “We could have just put up the fake tree.”

When we got home, we struggled to drag the tree inside, shoving it through the narrow doorway like we were cramming fat Santa down the chimney. A carpet of needles carpeted the real carpet.

We wrestled it into in the newly-bought stand and heard the top scrape across the ceiling. The tree that looked modest in a dark, empty parking lot was enormous crouching under our eight-foot ceilings.

“The fake tree would have fit perfectly,” Dan said.

I brought him the hacksaw and Dan got to work carving the green beast to size while sap stained his jeans.

Once it was back in the stand, we started the tedious job of stringing the lights.“The fake tree already has lights on it,” Dan said.

It was nearly midnight by the time we were done decorating the tree. Dan plugged in the lights and we stepped back to take in the final product.

It was spectacular.

The uneven configuration of the branches on the real tree created niches that displayed our cheap glass ornaments like pieces of fine art, and the green of the real tree was a shade no plastics chemist in Beijing has yet to recreate.

But the best part of all was the smell: Fresh, clean, real. I hadn't realized how much I missed that smell.

Our fake tree smelled like basement dust and packing tape, so every year we bought dozens of pine scented candles that we placed strategically around the house.

One year our son got the bright idea of hanging dozens of those tree-shaped, pine-scented car air fresheners on our fake tree like ornaments. They made the whole house smell vaguely of toilet bowl cleaner.

Not the real tree. The real tree smelled like nature and, well, Christmas.

“The fake tree is not nearly as nice as this one,” Dan said, and I agreed.

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