Running on Empty: From tree farm to tree-in-a-box, Christmas has changed


There was a time when Black Friday shopping was an unknown in my household, and Christmas tree farms were the norm.

The morning after Thanksgiving, my parents would rouse us early for a hot breakfast, then bundle us up for windy, winter temperatures. We piled in the family car – a station wagon, an Oldsmobile, or a noisy old brown and beige cargo van – and headed for the now retired tree farm near what later became Precious Moments.

I loved that old tree farm. We walked forever, up and over hills full of green possibilities, with a rusty saw in hand. My sister and I were the picky ones. It felt like a competition, who could find the best tree first, but we always agreed it had to be big. Too big, probably. Often, we staked out two or three contenders, then dragged mom and dad back and forth between them, critiquing girth and density.


When we settled on ‘the one,’ dad would lay on his side in the cold grass and cut it down. If I was lucky, he let me help, gripping the saw handle two-handed and yanking it back and forth. And then we drug it back to shake the loose needles free, net it, tie it to the car, and drive it home. I still remember wincing when the branches bent and popped as we jerked it through the front door.

By the end of the night, the tree was up and decorated, and mom was posing us in front of our glittering spoils for Polaroids and Kodak moments. Those were the days, when Christmas hit the ground running in a single day.

Things are different now.

Our tree came from a box in the garage, and instead of cutting it down with our excited children, my wife and I spent two days de-lighting it, ridding it of temperamental strands.

(Pre-lit trees are a scam, forcing the mildly frustrated among us to buy a new one every two or three years rather than cut the zillions of zip-tied lights from our current tree’s branches. No more!)

We’ve spent the last seven days decorating it with lights, red metal chains that resemble the construction paper variety we used to make in school, a garland of knit balls my wife found at TJ Maxx, and enough Hallmark Keepsake ornaments to satisfy a 1-ornament-to-1-branch ratio.

I’m not kidding. It may be time to start doubling up.

In between, I busy myself with house lights, a blow-mold Santa in his sleigh with a single exuberant reindeer, an inflatable Christmas tree, and various other external displays. Tomorrow, the interior work begins.

In total, I estimate we spend approximately 21 days decorating for Christmas. It’s okay though, cause we leave it all up until March (that’s when my son’s birthday party comes around and we have to take it down for fear of getting mocked by our unsuspecting guests).

We might have a Christmas problem.

In short, we’ve taken a single day of Christmas sincerity and turned it into a 21-day lovefest with the holidays. It’s exhausting, stressful, and I can’t say with conviction that it’s better than the original approach.

But when it’s all done, and the kids are in bed, and I sit alone in the glow of the tree lights and my authentic Christmas Story leg lamp…it sure feels worth it.