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Designer Trees? I Say ‘Humbug!’ to These Fashion Zombies

I suppose I’ll make a lot of people mad and start some household fights, but I have to say it: Designer Christmas trees aren’t the real thing.
I’m willing to accept all varieties, sizes and shapes of Christmas trees as genuine. So long as the ornaments are many-colored, I’ll go for all white lights, since the early trees had candles on them, after all. I’ll even admit that some artificial trees from Thailand or China can qualify as “real;” in fact, our family has been thinking of getting one (we are always thinking of getting one).

But I draw the line at self-consciously arty trees, especially those of monochromatic decorator design. You know them: the elegant ones with, maybe, all gold balls and gold ropes and bows. A two-color scheme isn’t much better: the maroon and silver numbers, for example, with (yawn) all maroon ribbons and silver baubles and perhaps a silver light cleverly shining down on them from the ceiling. Such self-conscious concoctions are to real Christmas trees what robots are to human beings; they lack souls.

Corporations have no souls, either, as Justice Holmes said, and that is why you see these foppish, superficial pseudo-trees in bank lobbies, windows of fancy dress shops and the offices of lawyers who specialize in Yuletide garnishments and foreclosures. In places like that they look right at home.

But not in a real home.

Yet, from misguided mansions to corrupted cottages, imposter trees with turned up noses are taking over. Humble hemlocks and folksy firs are being lobotomized – poked and squeezed into the hard, confining contours of a Fifth Avenue mannequin. Silk scarves and pricey sequins are pushing aside old family and friends.

Our neighbor, Tony, came by last year to look longingly at the buxom, old-fashioned tree in our parlor, its generous arms holding a quarter century of memories.

“We used to do this!” Tony cried. “But Alice wanted to be artistic. So she got rid of all our ornaments and did up everything in pink, with dozens of little white lace fans. It makes me sick!”

“Oh, these are just old things we’ve had for years,” my wife soothed, unconvincingly. “Like that (pointing to a little painted yellow ball, “Baby’s First Christmas”); kitschy, isn’t it? But we keep it.”

“And this tiny wooden sled,” I noted, “1982 – who gave us that?”

“I forget,” my wife said.

“And that Santa made out of cookie dough. Our oldest made that at age 5. It really is a blob.”

“Lord, I miss it!” our neighbor of the pink-tree-with-white-lace-fans wailed.

Every year we lose some of our treasures and seem to collect even more: the tin angel from a trip to Mexico, the little Austrian cathedral a house guest gave us, the cloth clown an aunt made (“loving hands at home,” we say in mock mockery). There are also the slightly broken ornaments that represent somehow the losses as well as the gains in our lives. A good Christmas tree is not a claim at perfection, but a frankly imperfect attempt to symbolize the redemptive beauty we seek in this season.

Like life, the ornaments and their stories accumulate, Christmas by Christmas, ascending from the well-crafted little creche below the lowest bow to the inherited dime-store star. We always think we have more than the tree can bear, but there always turns out to be room.

These are the Christmas trees we grew up with and our children are growing up with now. Let our kids, when they are adults, improve on the idea and add to it. But Heaven help them if they try to bring home to our future grandchildren some painted fashion zombie from downtown.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.