The Great Divide – Real vs Fake Christmas Trees

America it seems is divided into two opposing camps – those who have real Christmas trees and those who don’t. Even within our small family this dynamic played itself out, and I might add still does today.

We always had a real tree when I was younger. As Christmas approached, my mother would suggest it was time for my father to get a tree. I don’t think he liked to do this, but it seemed to be the “thing” that the man of the family did. So one night he would show up with this year’s tree. Now tree may be a kind word, as often it seemed to be the one left over on the lot. It was missing some branches and dropped needles from the car into the house. There it had to be tied up to a nail in the wall to keep from falling over. Once in place, father put the lights on the tree. He would get out the long strings of those old fashioned lights – the kind that if one bulb went out they all went dark. It was a challenge to have the entire tree lighted at the same time. And my mother would helpfully tell him where there were dark spots and if a string had gone out. Father’s patience, in many cases, would last only as long the tree stayed lighted.

About 1962 the family experienced a futuristic “Jetson’s Christmas.” That was the year my aunt and uncle got an artificial aluminum tree. It reminded me of an aluminum umbrella frame, with several rows of spiky fringed branches, from which there dangled bright red balls. To top it all off, an electric color wheel revolved changing the hues of the aluminum from red to blue to yellow to green.

Through the years mother would toy with alternate trees – ones made of nylon mesh, pinecones, pipe cleaners, and other things. But, in the 1980s she found her true medium: ceramics and made us a tree. It was beautifully painted and glazed to shiny-green perfection and enhanced with small plastic bulbs, which glowed from an internal light.

Ours was a medium-sized tree, but I have seen them from small to very large versions. The women of upstate New York , it seemed, at that time to have made many of these trees. This probably explains why the local antique mall has a large supply of them at this time of year.

My one and only experience with bringing home a real tree occurred about 1958. I decided that I would go out into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree. I was 14 and very confident. As the afternoon drew on, I kept walking to find the right tree, not realizing how long I had been out in the cold. After a while it began to get dark, but I couldn’t go back empty handed. I wandered around until I had gotten very cold, but I did find a tree and cut it down.

Today I have an artificial tree. I learned a valuable lesson in those cold woods, so long ago.


A version of this story appeared in the Sunday, Geneva NY Finger Lakes Times, Dec 10,2017

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Christmas, Christmas Trees and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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