The Christmas Tree Debate


For many people, Christmas is all about the smell of pine trees in their living room. Tell anyone with this kind of mentality that you have always had an artificial Christmas tree, and they will probably recoil from you in horror.

Personally, I have never really understood the popularity of real Christmas trees. It’s just an exercise in futility, isn’t it? You might start out with visions of a tree as grandiose as the towering specimens of Trafalgar Square, but instead, more often than not, the result of your efforts more closely resembles a green, furry toilet brush. Most real Christmas trees just look uneven, unstable, and untidy. However, I must begrudgingly admit that artificial trees have similar drawbacks. Whilst a fake Christmas tree is less likely to flatten you at any given moment, the idea that artificial trees are low-maintenance is a complete myth. Keep your imitation evergreen for a few years and it will be dropping enough fibres to dye your carpet emerald. Fake fibres or real needles, whichever option you choose, your hoover is going to have its work cut out for most of December.

Aside from the contentious issue of what sort of foliage you should put in your lounge, however, is of course the heated debate about how you should decorate it. For some, the idea of anything other than a traditional tree festooned with red and gold decorations to rival anything Prince Albert organised for Osborne House is complete sacrilege.  (Presumably, of course, they omit the authentic Victorian fire hazard of numerous candles). Oh, and silver is prohibited, naturally. That nonsense can be left to those new-fangled White Christmas trees, thank you very much.

Yet, for those who could bear to put away the candy canes, the arctic look was a must have in 2010. 10 Downing Street chose blue and silver decorations, and suddenly everyone not only clamoured to emulate the colour scheme but wanted a tree to match it. Stripped-back, sophisticated, striking, the white Christmas tree was elevated from a fibre-optic creation relegated to a teenager’s bedroom to something very much in Vogue. (Or, at least, the Christmas edition of the Radio Times). I must confess, however, that I harbour a sneaking suspicion that the Prime Minister didn’t labour over the decision to break away from a traditional red and gold theme completely on his own. I like to think intense focus groups, action plans, a possible appointment of a Manager of Festive Related Installations went on behind the doors of Number 10.

This year’s must-have, emerging from the ‘shabby chic’ trend, (a term which I think should be abolished and replaced with ‘rustic’ which is marginally more tolerable) appears to be trees without foliage. (I guessed that this might be to avoid the needle problem, but I have been reliably informed it’s for aesthetic reasons. That’s not a dead branch in your living room, by the way, it’s a visual statement about the harsh realities of winter). Once illuminated, however, they do look quite decorative. A little unconventional perhaps, but I think this understated trend is one of the better ones. On the other hand, the prices of the pre-lit trees are nothing to make light of, and the minimal, (or prepared) look rather takes the fun out of decorating for Christmas. Would it really feel like the festive season without the annual arguments about where everything should go?

For me, the best thing about Christmas is decorating our tree with the varied, miscellaneous, ‘unique’ decorations that we have accumulated over the years. In some ways they are a document of our family, from the clay stars my brother and I made at preschool to the clip on candles bought a couple of years ago (because no one completely escapes the Victorian influence). Artificial, real, or even a branch, your tree is in many ways the centre of your Christmas, and decorative diversity is simply a part of this. Oh, and just a Christmas tip from me: if you’re tempted to try an artificial tree this year, why not? You can always buy that traditional family member some pine scent spray as an early Christmas present.

 Beth Howell

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