Childhood Traditions

By Teo Spengler | December 21, 2022
Image by dmf87
by Teo Spengler
December 21, 2022

A live tree or an artificial tree? The question is one that can cause surprisingly emotional debates. It shouldn’t matter that much, in the big picture, and yet it does. Most of us have strong feelings one way or the other when it comes to Christmas trees.

I always come down on the real tree side, mostly live trees these years, container trees that I can plant afterward. Given the choice between a cut tree and an artificial one, I would still reject the fake and go with the real. That’s because real trees smell of the Christmas magic of my youth.

Childhood Christmas Traditions

Holidays are the storage chests for our memories, and not a Christmas can pass without visions of Christmases past, whether we will or no. Part of this magnetism for memories comes from the fact that holidays can be so magical to kids, with visions of Santa Claus and sugar plums and “good children” rewarded.

While many of us try to rebuild our family patterns in different ways, Christmas may not be top on our lists. For me, at least, that is the case. While I have deliberately altered many aspects of my family dynamics from childhood, Christmas traditions remain. That means that no Christmas feels like a “real” Christmas without a real tree.

Smells of Christmas

More than any other American holiday, traditional Christmas celebrations are sensory delights. There are the holiday sounds, the crackle and pop of the fire, the Christmas carols on the radio. The sight of wrapped gifts and decorations.

Mostly there are the smells: the food cooking – during my childhood it was always a turkey in the oven, the kind with the little thing that popped out to tell you it was done. After the turkey, the apple pie baking added sweetness to the kitchen fragrance.

Behind it all, the rich pine scent of the Christmas tree. No artificial tree could ever fill the house with fragrance the way our cut trees did in childhood.

Christmas Today

My holiday traditions have changed dramatically over the years. The heaps of gifts have given way to a few, carefully chosen presents; the turkey feasts yielded to my vegetarian habits.

Yet the real Christmas tree remains. I still love the refreshing scent of pine branches. Whenever I spend Christmas in France, I buy container trees, since I have space to plant them. In San Francisco, I buy cut trees. It goes against the grain, but not to the same extent that using a “fake tree” would.

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