Don’t tell anyone, but for the first time in my life, I’m putting up an artificial Christmas tree.

I’m still sorting through my feelings about this radical act. They include fear of disappointing my adult children, who still embrace family traditions. I also feel mild shame and a sense of fraudulence, like I’m baking with margarine instead of butter or replacing the grass in my yard with AstroTurf.

This is one of my first Christmas trees (real, of course) as an adult. It was the late 1980s and I was living in an apartment in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. (You can tell by the TV!) Credit: Nancy E. Anderson

I like the imperfect beauty of nature, the comfort of longstanding rituals, and the festive air and cheerful folk at St. Nick’s Fest, where my husband and I have purchased trees in the past. 

So what happened? Why the change?

 It started around this time last year when I was at my friend Gayle’s house.

“Your tree is so pretty,” I said, admiring her stately green beauty, which nearly touched the ceiling. “Where did you get it?”

“Home Depot or Amazon. I can’t remember,” she said. “Nancy, it’s fake!”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “It looks so real.”

“We bought it the year we went away after Christmas ‘cause I didn’t want to worry about taking anything down,” she said. “Now we do it every year.”

Gayle and I sat on her couch, and the more we talked about the downside of real trees – the mess and exertion of putting them up and taking them down, the drying and dropping needles – the more appealing the factory version seemed. 

As for the evocative smell, we agreed that a high-quality scented candle, while not the same, was an acceptable plan B.

I could hardly believe I was being converted.

“I could hardly believe I was being converted.” Another real tree from years past. Credit: Nancy E. Anderson

When I was growing up, my family always had real trees. My dad, who didn’t care about fashion, decorating or appearances in general, had strong feelings about Christmas trees. He believed they had to be real, and they had to be balsam firs. He shook his head at Scotch pines, flocked trees and anything artificial. 

While my dad, who died a few years ago, was lighthearted in his yuletide dogma, it hardened in me as a strict rule. Before last year, I had never considered anything other than a real tree. 

But sitting there with Gayle, the thought of something easier yet still pretty was intriguing. 

Motherhood and age were continually teaching me to relax my standards. Maybe it was OK to soften this one, too.

So, last January, after we carried our desiccated fir from the living room to the parkway in a wake of needles, my husband and I drove to Menards, which seemed to have the most realistic artificial trees at the best prices. 

The tree we bought is now sitting in a rectangular box in our garage waiting to be assembled.

“Waiting to be assembled” is hardly the most romantic way to describe a Christmas tree. But I’m hopeful once it’s put together, it will be as majestic and sparkly as Gayle’s was.

What is Christmastime anyway if not a willing suspension of disbelief with a sprinkle of pixie dust? (I mean the secular traditions, not the religious.) 

When my children were little and we routinely spent Christmas Eve at my parents’ house with a host of relatives and friends, those lively evenings followed a similar pattern. My dad would quietly get up from the dinner table, stealthily change, exit through the back, and then ring the doorbell in front dressed as Santa. 

My kids and their cousins, who were 99% certain it was Grandpa, would squeal with delight. They pulled on his loosely attached, synthetic white beard while he laughed and hugged them. It was fake and real all at the same time.

Nancy E. Anderson

Nancy E. Anderson is a writer, communications consultant and swim coach. She has lived in Evanston since 1992.

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  1. My response to the frequently asked question, “Is Santa Clause real?” has always been, “What’s real is how the thought of Santa makes you feel.” The same could be said for the much maligned artificial Christmas tree.