It was December and I was wearing shorts and sunscreen. There’s something wrong with this picture, I thought.

My family and I had just traded hemispheres, and this was our first Christmas Down Under. Only a couple weeks before, my parents, older brother, and I had stepped off the plane from the States onto New Zealand soil, where we planned to settle.

Christmas in summer was the new normal. Gulp.

When in Rome, right? Barbeque for Christmas dinner? Of course! Go to the beach after opening “prezzies?” Why not? Watch the Queen’s address after tea—naturally!

By our third Christmas, my family and I had settled on a piece of property that was originally a forestry section, filled with rows of radiata pine.

In all our Christmases in the US, my brother and I had never had a real Christmas tree, and now that we lived in a forest, it was preposterous to consider pulling Old Dusty (our artificial twig of a Christmas tree) out of its packaging.

So, my dad and brother set out to “grab a tree.” One would think that, in forty-four acres of pines, this would not be a difficult task. Well, it was. After all, these trees were grown for anything but decorative purposes.

The result of their search was Limber Timber.

Limber Timber was an offshoot of an old stump, sharing the same real estate with the Ghost of Christmas Tree Past until Dad’s chainsaw severed any former attachment. Limber Timber was the perfect height for our living room, but that did not mean it was endowed with boughs a-plenty.

In fact, it looked more like a pole of inverted umbrella frames than a pine. The few gangly branches sloped upward rather than downward, and the most pronounced feature was its pale, crooked spine. We couldn’t understand how something that had looked so decent outside could look so beyond-the-reach-of-tinsel inside. At least it smelled like a Christmas tree…

And yet, dear as our first real Christmas tree was, it stood between us and complete yuletide joy for two reasons.

  1. Suddenly, the smell of sap evoked less-than festive reminiscence. Only months before, the four of us had spent three long, sticky weeks cutting and clearing trees to create a building site for our house. One whiff of sap in those days, and I could once again recall the feel of worn leather gloves so stiff with sap that they might as well have been bronzed. I could hear the buzzing of chainsaws and the crack of trees going timber. And I could feel the harsh bark and needles against my arms as I recalled the hours of dragging logs and clearing branches. So, yeah…the smell of sap no longer effused the most nostalgic of memories.
  2. We Northern Hemisphere folks still hadn’t gotten our minds around the fact that even though it was December, it was full-blown summer, and that could mean only one thing: pollen. Yes, that tree had not even been decorated in all its attempted glory before three out of four of us were sneezing and rubbing at our eyes. A naïve oversight, perhaps, but we were determined to have a real tree for our first Christmas in our new house, and keep it we did. For the entire—and I mean entire—duration of the Christmas season. That is, right up until December 26th.

That was sixteen years ago, and I’ve been back in the US six of those years, but no matter which hemisphere I find myself in at the happiest season of all, when discussing the choice of a Christmas tree, I’ll always say, “Jingle bells, skip the smells, fake trees all the way!”

6 thoughts on “The First/Last Christmas Tree

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