Oh, Christmas tree

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I love Christmas. No, really, more than other people. I'm just plain silly about Christmas. Like a child, my excitement grows the nearer we get to Christmas. Although, I admit, just about every part of the season contributes to the excitement, the Christmas tree is one of my favorite parts of the holiday.

This year, I'm more aware of the debate over artificial versus real Christmas trees. I was told the other day about a lady who covers her tree at the end of the season and stores it away completely assembled and decorated. The next holiday season she merely takes the tree out and uncovers it. OK, so that would make things simpler, I guess. But then, where's the fun in having it?

My most fun childhood Christmas memories surround the Christmas tree. I would go every year with my dad in his pickup truck to get the tree. I don't know when or how I was crowned the Christmas tree queen of the family, but it was known every year that it was my job -- my duty -- to pick out the tree.

After deciding on one, we'd scramble around our small living room figuring out where to put it -- sometimes taking the poor tree back outside more than once to cut it down to fit the room. We'd string the lights, pull out the ornaments and sort through them. One year, my sister and I made garland from popcorn and cranberries. I think it was an idea we stole from "Little House on the Prairie."

I still love putting the ornaments on the tree. Each one holds a memory. There are the old, almost crumbling, ceramic ones I made in the fourth grade at Oak Ridge Elementary School with our art teacher, Mrs. Lemmons. There are ornaments my mom cross-stitched for us one year. I have ornaments that hung on my grandmother's tree years ago. In more recent years, I'm partial to the ones my son brings home from his own art classes.

Last year, I succumbed to the artificial tree side of the fence. But I think this won't last. What kind of memories will our children have of pulling the fake tree out of the closet? It's the tromping through the farm, getting your turn to hold the saw and appreciating the thick, sweet smell of the real Christmas tree that sticks with them. Stuck with me, anyway.

After we decorated our Christmas tree this year, I showed my 6-year-old my favorite way to view the Christmas tree: from the bottom. First, we turned all the other lights out. Then we lay down on the floor and scooted so our heads were just under the tree. We looked up through the branches at the lights and ornaments from below. Although it was a pretty cool view from the bottom this year, it was missing the effect of real Christmas tree aroma. Silly as it sounds, it's fun to be a child with my child.

Candice Davis is the Media Specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southeast and Ozark regions. Read tips on picking out a tree and recycling an old tree on this "Discover Nature" blog entry on semissourian.com.

Live Christmas tree tips

Here are some Christmas tree tips to think about from the Missouri Department of Conservation if you haven't picked yours out yet. If you have, check out the section about recycling Christmas trees at the bottom -- and check out the next Discover Nature blog for more details on how and why to recycle trees.

PICK A FRESHLY CUT TREE: Make sure the tree you select is fresh. To test freshness, gently shake one of the tree's branches. It is normal for a few needles to fall, but if an excessive amount of green needles fall, it is a sign that the tree is not fresh.

OR USE A LIVE EVERGREEN: As an alternative to a cut tree, consider purchasing a live evergreen from your local nursery or garden center. Not only will it make a beautiful Christmas tree, you also can plant it in your yard after the season and enjoy it for many holidays to come. If you're considering a live tree for Christmas, proper planning is essential.

WATER: Water is the single most important factor in caring for your Christmas tree. When you bring your tree home, make a fresh cut to the trunk (take off an additional half inch), and place it immediately in a tree stand full of water. Never let the water level fall below the bottom of the trunk. A tree can drink up to two gallons of water per day, so check the water level frequently. A fresh tree that is kept in water should last four to five weeks.

SELECTING A LOCATION IN THE HOUSE: Pick a spot for your tree that is not near a heating vent, wood stove or fireplace, as this tends to dry the tree out. Ensure that your tree is secured in a sturdy tree stand away from high traffic areas and sources of open flames, such as candles and fireplaces. Check to see that all lights have cords that are not worn or frayed, and never leave home or go to bed with the Christmas tree lights on.

RECYCLE WHEN THE HOLIDAYS ARE OVER: If your community does not offer a tree recycling program, there are several creative ways to make further use of your tree. You can place the tree in the backyard to offer cover for wildlife, or under bird feeders to provide nesting locations in the branches. Your tree can be shredded or chipped for mulch, or you can sink it in a pond to enhance fish habitat.

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