Patrick Koske-McBride
7 min readDec 7, 2022

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In Defense of Artificial Christmas Trees

A festive yuletide essay to be read by B. Karloff and Michael Caine

So, the holidays are here, again, which means that people who are utterly silent on the subject the other 50 weeks of the year, suddenly have very important opinions on “real” or “artificial” trees. This is identical to straight men having opinions on “real” vs augmented breasts — clueless judgments made in ignorance by people who can’t tell the difference without help (and who, frankly, aren’t in a position to express anything other than gratitude)(sorry, my mind drifted).

As a long-time “fake” tree owner, I feel compelled to defend Leon’s honor (first benefit of an artificial tree — you can become emotionally attached, because it will be back there, next year), even though I doubt an inanimate object has a sense of honor. Before anyone goes on the offensive about plastic and metal trees being somehow less than the “real” deal, allow me to remind you that the alternative is literally dragging a plant carcass into your home and allowing it to rot for a month. Why do we celebrate this stupid holiday, again? Did one of the apostles get totally wasted and lose a bet with Jesus?

Anyway, in order to appreciate my own personal journey from Christmas Tree Purist to pragmatist, let’s describe my pre-fake-tree pine harvesting experience. In an ideal situation, you might pick up a tree from the local Boy Scout troop, wrestle it onto your vehicle, and put it up in your dwelling. Because the BSA tragically refuses to sell trees before Thanksgiving, that meant that the more ambitious American families would be shunted either to a pine-growing lot/farm/thing (they actually exist; trust me), or, in some cases, onto BLM (Bureau of Land Management)-designated growing areas. As far as I know, there are maybe a half-dozen dedicated Christmas Tree Farms in California. Which means, in terms of per-capita tree plantations (seriously; what is the proper noun?), you might be better off winning the lottery than living within driving distance. If you go for the “Cut my own from the wild” approach, expect something right out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I actually had to describe it to friends the other night, so, allow me to point out that, just as City Hall takes a dim view of suburbanites going to the municipal park and taking an ax to a thriving specimen that would clearly do better in your family room; our natural resources management bureaucracy doesn’t want anyone further destroying precious public property. Ignore those oil drilling leases, peasants, that’s for rich folk.

So, if you do live somewhere closer to the wilderness, expect to drive a while to your designated Tree Harvest Location (again, it’s frowned upon to just drive straight to Yosemite Village and saw down something nice in front of the Visitor’s Center). And then hoof it a while. We’ve all been on lengthy hikes that go several kilometers longer than we initially planned. Imagine doing the same, with the grim knowledge that the return traverse over field, fen, desert, and mountain, will be with a two-tonne tree in-tow. But, hey, at least it isn’t a plastic tree!

When you finally find a legal-to-chop tree, go at it. There are, of course, many logging methods at your disposal, but, if this is a family outing (of course it is; why would anyone want to minimize suffering during the holiday season?), I recommend going with a hacksaw, to minimize the possibility of a reenactment of “Texas Chainsaw Chrismas.” If you don’t have a family, there’s no reason to do this to yourself. It sounds snide, but one of the few, undisputed benefits of living alone is that no one can enforce bullshit patriarchal roles on you without your consent (also, the patriarchy doesn’t believe in consent, so, if you’re single and Christmas Tree hunting, you’re already socially betting against yourself), so, enjoy that silent night to yourself. For you poor bastards guilted into this thing by an increasingly ungrateful family, despite the masculine appeal of axes, they do weigh a few kilos, and you can do some serious damage if anyone drops it on themselves (first rule of Real ‘Merican Xmas Tree harvesting is that there will be at least one accidental injury; you want to consider a harm reduction model BEFORE passing the ER); and, while you can definitely cause some masive hemorraging with a hacksaw, you have to work at it.

If you’re still trapped on a godforsaken mountainside trying to fell a life that was probably formed decades before you, warm yourself with the cheery thought that this is the easiest part of the ordeal. After you fell that mighty fir, you get to drag it back to your vehicle, which is, if experience is any indication, in a different time zone. Don’t let that deter you, though!

After you’ve finally dragged that poor Giving Tree back to your Volvo, you can get to work securing it to that roof rack. Traditionally, we used various bungie cords, ratchet straps, and, possibly, chains. Once the tree is firmly welded to your car, you will likely begin to appreciate that “natural” traditionally means “lopsided.” It may also mean, “Some poor animal was hibernating in the branches, and now the family will need therapy before ever getting in the car with Daddy, ever again” — again, “natural” covers a broad range of sins, and one of the benefits of an artificial tree is, no matter how lop-sided Leon is, a pair of pliers and a home repair kit can readily repair any aesthetic issues. Natural trees are a thornier proposition (possibly literally, if you take the worst route to the tree hunting grounds), and there were more than a few holiday trees that weren’t exactly “Charlie Brown Trees,” but weren’t going to be featured in a T. Kinkade painting. Again, just like body parts, if your goal is aeshetic appeal, you might want to opt for the artificial route and leave the judgment in the woods.

Anyway, to return to your current tree-gathering woes, your powers of observation regarding plants and urban living will improve. One thing you will notice right away: it’s damned hard to get a good straight-cut in the woods (or the tree farm; the terrain is similar), so, you can expect to put in some time with that damned Christmas tree strand, a belt sander, and, possibly, that chainsaw you wisely left in the shed. Once the tree is standing upright, unaided (just as it was 10 minutes before you became a villain in a Disney film), you might receive a stark education in geometry and architecture. To be more precise; the average red-blooded American home-owner’s home usually has rectangular doors, probably 2 m tall. Nature is not known for exacting specifications, and I would not use the adjective “rectangular” to describe any part of a tree. On one of the more-memorable childhood Xmas Lumber Adventures, the tree was taller than our ceiling (hey, I was eight at the time, spatial awareness doesn’t kick in until puberty). I don’t recall how we solved that issue; I know we’ve never canceled Christmas, but I’m sure it was discussed.

Oh, and, at this point, if you’re being traditional, you should get a sheet out and put it under the tree. Yes, this is the traditional order of doing things. One of the benefits of age is appreciating just what memory erasure allows people to do. A major impetus for getting a fake tree was recalling and listing the numerous logistical problems that frayed the social fabric. Nowadays, it’s just about clearing half a room and getting out the boxes.

That sheet is important, because, as I mentioned, you’re festooning your living quarters with an actual upright rotting tree that you literally just murdered, you monster. The tree’s final, best defense/revenge is spreading a thick carpet of piercing, sticky needles atop your own carpet. And they will be in there until April, unless you use tinsel; in which case, the needles will be shiny, too. You can cut that by, maybe a third, if you put a carpet or sheet down for the tree. Which just means that you’ll pick those needles out of your laundry, in addition to your socks. The needles are important; watching a tree wilt and die during the holidays will be your child’s first experience with mortality.

But, hey, you can sit content, knowing — ohgod, shit, did the dog hit it or something?! TOMMY, GRAB THAT BRANCH, NO, THE OTHER — WAIT

So, yeah, we’ve also had trees fall over, animals devour trees, and every conceivable mishap between “minor owie” to, “We spent hours on it and now it’s spontaneously combusted?!” Frankly, nature is chaos, and our forests are a hellscape of angry botany seeking vengeance upon trespassers, and we, for some reason, invite that into our homes on an annual basis. The Germans simply have the Krampus to fulfill that cultural role.

No more. Since getting Leon, there hasn’t been a tree-related incident that couldn’t be solved in 20 minutes with some duct tap, pliers, and a wrench (and sometimes Windex)(we’re approaching 20 years together, apart from dusting, we still haven’t developed a solid tree-cleaning strategy). And there’s no unplanned drama. Even when the dog knocked the fake tree over a few years ago, it was just about getting everything upright (a feat that was done with just two people) and tracking down the ornaments. Admittedly, Leon doesn’t have that same pine-fresh scent of real trees, and that would be an issue if peppermints didn’t exist.

Also, in terms of colour palette, as Melania’s weird Christmas Decor proved, if you give up any pretense of traditional Christmas decor, you’re limited only by your own imagination. I don’t have a Stephen King-inspired set-up (yet), but I have Leon, and a magenta pink tree, a frosty-white cherry tree, and, my favorite, a peacock blue-green and purple combination tree (yeah, my inner decorator is a drag queen, but, if I’m going to endure this dreadful season, I’m not going to do so under those Soviet hues of Mother Naure).

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Patrick Koske-McBride

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”