Soon it is time to buy a Christmas tree again. Not to assemble one that I find in a box in the garage. However sad I feel about those little baby trees that never make it to adulthood but are destined to die in my living room, I will always buy a real tree. The scent of the tree is one of the things that most evokes the Christmas feeling in me. This is why I tend to prefer trees with a stronger scent, such as the Epicea, to trees such as the Nordman, which hold on to their needles better but have a weaker scent. I always place my tree in a Christmas tree foot with water, as is the habit in Finland, rather than using the wooden cross which is commonly used in Belgium, so my tree keeps its needles quite well.
Some people will think that I am leaving my tree buying to the last minute, but this is intentional. In Finland most people buy their tree quite late, and in my family we usually bought it the night before Christmas Eve or even in the morning on Christmas Eve itself. I used to believe this was a family tradition, until I grew up and realised it probably had more to do with the discounted trees you find when you buy them at the last minute. Looking back at old pictures I am horrified at what I at the time thought were beautiful trees, and now realise were the cheapest left-over scare-crows. Well the trees died happy, being worshiped by children who did not know any better. And what was just a money-saving measure turned into a tradition. I buy my tree some days in advance, to make sure I have a decent selection, but I only decorate it on Christmas Eve.
Since I grew up Christmas tree buying has become serious business. Especially since I usually go tree shopping together with my sister, who makes the whole thing a very painful experience. You will find me lurking behind some evergreen branches while my sister almost reduces the sales people to tears with her extremely selective taste.
“Here, I think I this might be what you want” says the Christmas tree seller in a hopeless voice, as he unwraps the 10th tree from its netting.
“Hmmm.” My sister inspects the tree with a critical expression. Then her eyes widen in horror. “There is a gap in the branches near the top!” she exclaims in a shocked voice.
Really? The trees branches do not grow in perfectly concentric circles around the stem? Who would have imagined that…?
When she finally selects one it is usually way too tall and the seller has to cut a piece off the stem. In the earlier years we tended to forget that the foot adds 10 centimeters or so, and ended up with a tree that was still too big. This meant some heavy work for my boyfriend wielding a blunt old saw. Nowadays we buy our own trees, but since I need her boyfriends car to transport my tree I cannot avoid the tree shopping experience.
Not only is my sister fussy about buying her tree, she is equally fussy about the decoration. Gone are the joyful careless days of childhood when we would hang our ugly self made decorations on any branch within our reach. Nowadays decorating is a precise aesthetic science that requires careful contemplation of the proper place for each ornament. There must be a even balance of colours throughout the tree. A set of ornaments should be placed at a proper distance from each other and icicle/angel hair tinsel has to be carefully distributed on all the branches. She literally spends hours decorating the tree after everyone else has given up. I do not decorate my tree in the same haphazard fashion as I did when young but I cannot bother enough to spend hours on it. Usually it ends up beautiful any way. Once the lights are out and the tree shines in the darkness any decorating mistakes are no longer visible, except maybe on the trees of my childhood – no darkness could hide that.