Features & Stories


Story and photos by Trudy Frisk

"There are light fruit cake people, and there are dark fruit cake people", observes a friend of mine. "Invariably they marry each other leading to a lot of strife during the season of peace and good will."

It’s the same with Xmas tree folk. Individuals to whom the only true tree is organically grown on a supervised farm, and harvested by pre-approved gnomes end up wassailing with people who believe unfolding the fake tree from its narrow box is festive decorating at its finest.

A real tree or an artificial tree; that is the question. But, there are conflicting groups and sub-groups within those two main philosophies.

The artificial tree boosters range from those who just want something pre-lighted, upright and green, to hoity-toity types who go for themes, complementary colours and ornaments, in a debilitating frenzy of style, always fearful of being outshone by some more cutting edge decorator. But, they are unanimous that their easy, tidy, trees spare them a cold trudge.

In-fighting is even more intense among the ‘real’ tree devotees. "Decorate anything as long as it’s natural." ,insist some, creating handsomely festooned sagebrush, ripped untimely from their desert roots. They, however, are a bit of a sub-cult, removed from the mainstream.

As so often happens, it’s among the traditionalists that the most bitter disputes occur. They all agree that choosing a tree and bringing it home make Xmas rituals more meaningful. Most are content to twirl trees at the local lot with much discussion about how the branches will look once they thaw. Imagination is essential at Xmas.

The more daring drive to a Xmas tree farm where, after a sleigh ride and cup of cocoa, they may cut down their own tree with a borrowed axe and helpful advice.

"Christmas Past"-family group with real tree

A Xmas tree farm is unthinkable and a Xmas tree lot laughable to the venerable Xmas tree hunter. To him a genuine Xmas tree must be sought in the ancient way, by taking axe, snowshoes and, one hopes, a permit from the Forest Service if hunting on Crown Land.

I use the word ‘hunting’ advisedly. Bagging a wily animal is easy compared to the complexity of tracking, stalking and capturing the perfect Xmas tree.

Let me state that I favour the natural tree. From childhood when getting a Xmas tree meant the family cutting the one on our land we’d selected back in the summer, to my son and I roaming an urban lot picking the right tree to strap down on the car-top ski racks, it seemed a simple matter. Turn the bare spot to the wall, put on the old, familiar decorations, fill the stand with water and tuck into the eggnog. Each tree’s individual quirks meant the decorator had to improvise, but that was part of the holiday challenge. What could be difficult?

That was before the Significant One and I went Xmas tree hunting. My approach to cutting a wild tree is like culling the herd; take the weak and sickly. After all, it’s only on display for a brief time. His is that of the hunter intent on bringing home the prize bull elk. The ingrained belief that, if he couldn’t drag the best of the breed back to his cave, he’d have failed as a man, must have invigorated the Pleistocene hunter. His spirit lives on.

The Significant One’s eyes would gleam as he spotted a likely specimen in the far distance. Distracting him by pointing out a worthy substitute within swinging range of the axe never worked. It was always too tall, short, skimpy, bushy or twisted. He was intent on the epitome of trees, one which would have neighbours gasping in awe. Anything less was unthinkable.

No amount of pleading for the tree’s life, offering the biological excuse of leaving the best to reproduce, or, in desperation, flinging my body in front of the doomed tree, ever succeeded. It’s impossible to argue for long with a man holding a sharp axe.

"Christmas Present" -quilted tree on back of chair.

I weakened as the day wore on, especially in stormy weather. For, the ideal tree was never found near our parking place. Nope, a thorough search of all copses and woods in a four mile radius must be made. Once in a while the right tree did turn up, at sunset, not far from the vehicle. Sometimes it was the very tree I’d mentioned when we first parked and got out the snowshoes. Often it’s not the actual capture, but the hunt that matters most. Usually the day ended with us dragging several trees, (we hunted for others, too), over the rangeland, across fences, (under is hard on the branches), down gullies and up ridges, arriving at last to load our scented booty into the truck.

Our differing concepts of the perfect tree caused us a lot more stress than all the exploring and hauling. I was distraught because good, healthy trees were going to their fate. He was testy because his quest had been spoiled by someone who refused to understand; as if a knight searching for the Holy Grail could be satisfied with a paper cup.

Surely this can’t have been what Prince Albert intended when he introduced Xmas trees from Germany to Victorian England?

This year I’m using a quilted tree, a work of art, easily put out and repacked. The Significant One has been muttering about buying an artificial tree- which would have the advantage of being perfect- though he’d miss the adventure of the hunt. We’ll see,

May your Xmas be merry and your Xmas tree bright!

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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