I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit of a snoot about real Christmas trees vs. fake. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always insisted that we either buy a tree to plant (really expensive and usually quite small at my budget) or a cut, live Christmas tree. I’ve sniffed in disdain at my friends who spend $200 or $300 on an artificial tree – they don’t get the fresh smell, they don’t get the joy of the search through the lot, their children don’t get to meet the guy at the Delancey Street trailer who described how this tree-selling project helps support their very successful detox and rehab program. When they say, “I’m going to get the tree out and put it up this weekend,” I feel bad for them missing the experience of finding and then having a real tree.
Lest you think me a total purist, I must confess – I found a 1960’s aluminum tree on e-bay eight or ten years ago, the one with the pom pom ends and the color wheel that made having the Christmas tree up feel like being in Mrs. Sandoval’s first grade class in 1966. She also had a tree like mine, and a color wheel that made a little squeaky grinding noise with each revolution. It’s the sound of grade school Christmas.
So some years we put up the aluminum tree, and then some years I get a live tree. But the aluminum tree is huge, and this year I opted to put it at my office, where there’s more space and it’s appreciated more. And my friend and business partner, Robin Smith, a fellow Mrs. Sandoval student, gets to relive her first grade Christmases with me.
So this year, the big debate began – real or, horror of horrors, should I consider a fake tree this year? After decades of buying real, after supporting the tree farm industry and then disposing of my tree every January, should I actually consider buying one I could keep in storage? Would it be more environmentally and economically sensible to buy real or fake?
I read the articles. About a hundred of them. Type “real vs. fake Christmas tree” into a search engine and you’ll see what I mean. They all have good points. I’m not going to outline them here – there’s just not enough space. For me the decision was still feeling like a struggle.
I called Johanna from Bed Bath & Beyond yesterday. “I’m considering buying an artificial tree,” I said, expecting a bombasting from her. I’ve raised her well – she believes part of the essence of Christmas is the dry needles on top of her presents and sticking to her socks. But surprisingly she didn’t have a strong reaction. “You should do what you want, Mom.” I was really counting on her to jump that hurdle for me. Instead she wanted assurance that the aluminum tree might come home from the office some years. I was happy to offer that.
I was still struggling with it throughout my day of shopping in Amarillo (sorry, it’s not in New Mexico, but it is one of the closest shopping destinations to my eastern New Mexico home). I went to Lowe’s and looked at artificial (the most beautiful tree was $368!!!!!! Holy mackerel. . ) and real (the lot was snowy, there was no help, and each tree, like real trees do, had an extremely flat side. Tree I wanted? $47).
Similar experiences at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Then I stopped at the hoochy-koo Coulter Gardens, where they have their real trees lined up like very well-behaved soldiers. Fresh tree I wanted? Almost $80.
I finally decided to let it go. It was only the 7th of December. I could take a little while longer to decide. I could even send Dave to buy the tree at Lowe’s this weekend – I wouldn’t even have to look. I could just trust him to bring home a tree.
I headed to Goodwill in search of a picture frame and ugly Christmas sweaters (did you know EVERYONE has ugly Christmas sweater parties now? Very tricky to find ugly Christmas sweaters).
I plan to use the frame to make this for my front door (yes, it’s all the fault of Pinterest). I also needed some glassware for about 53 other projects I found on Pinterest, so Goodwill was a great choice for me.
But guess what they had when I walked in the front door of Goodwill. Artificial Christmas trees! Seven of them, standing there, looking a little forlorn without the Christmas music of Lowe’s or the excessive decor of Michael’s or the hustle and bustle of Hobby Lobby. They were lined up, but not like well-behaved soldiers. More like vagrants on the street corner waiting for the bus to take them out for day work. I immediately liked them.
Sort of boggled my mind. Who would have thought my real vs. fake dilemma might be solved by Goodwill? I circled the trees, got down on the ground with the one I sorta liked, bent some branches to make it look fuller on the bottom, twisted the top every so slightly, and voila! There was my tree.
It looked exactly like the $368 version at Lowe’s! Swear! And I was doing what all the real vs. fake websites suggested – I was getting a tree that surely had been used for successive years. The conventional wisdom is that if you want to use an artificial tree, you should use it for eight or nine years for it to make economic sense. Of course, that’s when you’re spending $200 for it. . .
After the extremely helpful tech brought over an extension cord and showed me that all the lights worked, I asked the price. $40!!!! ( I realize I’m using all my exclamation marks here, but I really was thrilled with my find.)
I fell in love with my tree. Not because of its amazing beauty, but because it helped me solve what seemed like a big personal dilemma.
And what does this have to do with New Mexico? Well, if you’re in the same boat as me, there’s a list of my favorite thrift stores at the bottom of this post for you to try, just in case they have a fabulous fake tree. And generally thrift stores support a charity of some sort, like Goodwill. You can get youself a warm fuzzy feeling along with your cheap but way cool tree. By the way, my tree was the most expensive one at Goodwill. There are others that would cost you less.
If you’re not in the same boat as me and you’re still a live tree purist, may I suggest the Delancey Street Foundation lot near Indian School and Pennsylvania in Albuquerque? They really do great work with addicts and former convicts, and it really would be a great experience for you kids to meet some of those guys while they’re choosing their tree. They have a facility in northern New Mexico where lives are changed. Best reason in the world to buy a tree from them. . .
The website has a list of other lot locations – Cottonwood Mall in ABQ, 2 in Santa Fe, Espanola and Los Alamos.
By the way, I also found my picture frame. And a red candy dish and four really ugly Christmas sweaters. The last ones in the building.
Merry Christmas and happy tree hunting!!!
Thrift Stores I love:
Goodwill anywhere. Here’s a link with all their New Mexico locations: http://www.goodwillnm.org/shop/retail.htm
Savers, 3300 San Mateo Blvd NE and 3400 Calle Cuervo NW, Albuquerque
Santa Cruz Thrift Store, 1250 W. Picacho, Las Cruces
Salvation Army Thrift Store, 1202 Camino Carlos Rey, Santa Fe (this place has AMAZING stuff)