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As a kid, I always grew up with a real tree in the corner of my home at Christmas. Now that I have my own family, we continue the tradition. While a fake tree might do the job for some folks, to me, it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without the real thing.
Every December, my family takes our yearly trek from the Baltimore city line to the Maryland countryside. We travel just a few miles north, where the roads get long and meandering and farm life abounds. We are going to get our Christmas tree and the car ride is filled with carol singing and excitement — soon we will be bringing home the “perfect” one.
Of course, after we cut it down ourselves with a rusty old saw supplied by the owners of the tree farm, wrap it in rope and slap it on top of our Subaru, it won’t be quite perfect, but we’ll love it just the same. In fact, we’ll all be a little mud-covered and cold after an event that never goes quite as smoothly as we’d hoped. But to us, having the real thing and a little slice of nature — or usually, a big fat one — is always worth the effort.
Once our tree is secured (sort of) onto the roof of the car, we’ll grab seats by the outdoor woodstove, drink hot cider and eat gingerbread cookies. We’ll chat to other bundled tree-shoppers. But when we get home, there’ll be an even bigger reward — getting our perfect tree nestled in its stand and watching our home transform from its normal, day-to-day vibe to having that Christmastime feel.
Suddenly everything smells like pine, more than any scented candle or fake tree spray could offer. We’ll spend the rest of the day adorning our tree with lights, bulbs and cherished ornaments from years past. The kids are enthusiastic and in love with the tree they helped pick out and they’ll go about decorating it with great care, even if all the ornaments seem to end up congregated in one section on the lower half (they always do, but I’ll sneakily disperse them later on). We’ll drink hot cocoa and too much eggnog. And if I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit before, I surely will be by nightfall.
It might be easier to put up the same fake tree year after year. It would definitely save money and a lot of vacuuming up needles and rotating it perfectly to shove the bald(ish) spots into the corner. It would probably be nice never to have to climb underneath it to give it water, or more often, yell at everyone not to touch a single branch because I forgot to water it and a mountain of needles falls off every time someone walks by. But we love our real tree anyway, maybe more because it took our time and energy to retrieve it and because of its imperfections.
This tradition has become special to our family, and now our kids love it, too. For us, it’s about the whole experience. And we know that, like the season, our tree won’t last, and will eventually wither and die and be left out front with the trash.
But each year, our tradition will be renewed again. Here’s to muddy shoes, pine needles and all — because it wouldn’t be Christmas without a little mess.
Sarah Bregel is a mom of two who blogs at The Mediocre Mama. This story was originally published on Dec. 16, 2015 on TODAY.