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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Oh, Christmas tree

My son, who knows everything, has taken over choosing a Christmas tree for the family. This is because he is better at everything than all the other rubes in the family, who are apt to ruin the entire season by picking an inferior tree.

And we’ve done it before, too, as he will tell you. I’m surprised he’s even made it to 12, considering all the things his dad and I have managed to ruin in his young life.

There were several years when he had to endure a too-scrawny tree, culled from a too-thick forest. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he had to put up with other family members’ fool talk about what a beautiful tree it was, and how the ornaments had plenty of room to hang on the branches, and how it smelled so fresh and looked so natural.

He growled and snarled under his breath, and suggested we could at least add a couple of hundred more lights.

There was the year he had to endure the short, fat tree, bought from the short, fat owner of an aged tree farm. Being too old to climb a ladder, the owner trims his trees to the height he can reach from the ground, which results in extremely wide, dense Christmas trees shaped exactly like 4-foot-high candy Kisses.

I thought it was a fine tree, and put it up on a low table to make it taller and to keep the bottom branches away from the rabbit we had at the time, an inveterate nibbler.

The boy was not pleased — and that year he got support from his sister, who demanded we never get a tree like that again.

We went back to our woodlot the next year, and found a nice little spruce growing in a clearing, much fuller than those growing under a canopy of taller trees although not nearly as full as a field-grown tree that has been regularly trimmed and shaped.

My daughter deemed it perfect. Her brother did not agree. “Can’t we get a real Christmas tree next year?”

When he was little, he delighted in going out to the woodlot and choosing a wild tree with his dad, and each year he announced their choice was both perfect and the best ever.

They generally chose a young spruce, but only after examining each little fir and hemlock, spruce, white pine and red pine. (Hint: Don’t choose a hemlock for your Christmas tree, no matter how cute your kids think the little pinecones are. Once our neighbor cut two hemlocks and looped them together to make one lovely Christmas tree. Ten days later when every needle fell off, he cut two more and had to transfer all the decorations.)

I’m not sure if we had more little firs growing in the clearing back when the boy was little, or if we’ve already cut all the obvious Christmas trees and let the rest grow too tall. Maybe we should have trimmed a few of them for future years. Or maybe the little boy was less picky than the bigger one is.

When we first moved into our house, 20-odd years ago, we talked about thinning the row of spruces that marks the boundary between our house and the neighbor’s by cutting a Christmas tree now and then. Too late. Now those trees are 40 feet high.

Anyway, last year we gave in and let the boy choose a “real” Christmas tree, from a tree lot that benefits the Lions Club.

“Think of it as a donation,” my husband said, and began quoting Dickens. “‘At this festive season of the year . . . it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.’ ”

I’m all for supporting the Poor and Destitute, but I do like my little homely Christmas trees, from our own little woodlot. But I like my boy even better, so there will probably be some room for compromise again this year.

Maybe we’ll scour the woodlot first, and if there isn’t a native tree that meets his high standards, we’ll visit the Lions.

I guess I should be thankful the boy will still wander the woods with me to gather pine, spruce and fir cones to hang on the tree as ornaments. And that he’ll help me make our own wreath from branches we find in the woods, supplemented by trimmings from that overly tall spruce boundary.

It could be a lot worse. He could start demanding a fake tree or a red plastic bow on our wreath, or that we find a real angel for the tree topper instead of our traditional space man. That space man is older than the boy, and he looks festive on any tree, plump or scrawny.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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