O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, wherefore art thou, Christmas Tree?

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By Steve Doyle

Everyone wants the perfect Christmas tree, right? It's a rite of passage for most Americans that sometime around Thanksgiving - maybe even weeks before - you get a tree, put it up and stare at it for weeks of celebration.

The lights bring twinkle to your home, and the ornaments provide color if not sentiment. Maybe some were gifts from your children, mementoes from vacations or heirlooms from your family. Maybe you have a theme for your tree, a color scheme or some statement-making presence.

Your tree is an extension of your décor if not your personality.

What used to seem a simple process of simpler days has become something of an event.

Chances are that you spent some time last week finding your tree, checking the lights and finding new touches to add. (And we're not even talking about outside lights and all of that.)

And chances are that the place you went to get a tree was......hmm, where did you go?

If you take the drive on U.S. 60 from Jefferson to Franklin counties, you would expect to see a Christmas tree lot or three luring you with bright lights, inflated Frosty's and signs declaring the cause to be benefited by your purchase.

But you don't see them. There are no lots this side of J-town.

You can't even cut your own tree unless you own the land or know someone who does. Yes, our local cedar trees have become passé.

And, sadly, ours is a county of retail trees.

Gone are the days of hitching a wagon or an old slide to your Allis Chalmer or  Farmall and taking a frosty ride to a back field, where cedar trees were plentiful.

This was maybe a week before Christmas, and you chopped down your perfect tree - and maybe one for your grandmother - loaded it up and headed to the house.

Decoration day was a busy time to scrounge through old ornaments and the ritual of checking the light bulbs. You know, those large colored kind that could render a whole string useless.

These were the scenes we laugh at while watching The Christmas Story each year. They were real, not just Hollywood.

But that process has changed, too, and therein explains the paucity of Christmas tree lots.

What ever happened to the Boy Scouts or the Optimist Club selling trees to raise money? Where is the high school booster club? One I know of clothed some of its school's teams with the proceeds from tree sales. Oh, there is no booster club at SCHS.

So where could Charlie Brown have found his proud little tree if not for such lots?

Trees are big business - Home Depot for one expects to sell 2 million at $30 per this year - and retailers enjoy the profits from stacking trees out front and having you pick up one along with a quart of milk, a set of tires or a new light fixture. It's a natural process to play to a customer's sentiment.

Some sentiment, though, is fading.

Many of you have gone artificial. That number nationally has risen from 7.3 million to 17.3 million since 2001.

The folks who taught me Christmas have gone artificial. One guy I know - he's a relative, and his name must be protected  - has four of the fake ones Some of you may even have more.

They're easy. The lights stay attached. They store well. Simplicity reigns.

These artificial trees have been growing in popularity since the 1960s, when someone thought it would be far out to build a tree of tin foil and project lights on it through a color wheel. Perhaps acid caused that inventor something more than indigestion.

You Fake Folks are missing out on the real thing, baby.

Sure real trees require water, shed needles and can be fire hazards, but any part of nature worth having includes drawbacks.

Last year our family was were headed out of the country during the holidays. We celebrated early and left our incredibly beautiful 9-foot fir tree in place, so that Santa would find it while we were gone.

He did, of course, and when we returned in early January, there stood our tree, drying and saggy and just as aromatic and beautiful as can be.

Yes, it was a bit sad - the tree had been majestic when erected - and a mess to take down.

But it wouldn't have been Christmas any other way.

Steve Doyle can be reached at sdoyle@sentinelnews.com or by calling 502-633-2526.