To Tree or Not To Tree: Seeing Holiday Traditions (and Life) Differently

Nov 30, 2018

Photograph by Annie Spratt

Redefining the family Christmas tree unfolds new and expansive ways to approach life

Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday break, my son, visiting from college, and I got into a conversation about Christmas trees. I was looking through a magazine that was highlighting a spindly, metallic, tinsel tree — and while I guess they have a kitschy charm all their own, my first gut reaction was to say, “Oh how sad that looks…”

My son had different ideas on the subject and commented how he thought it was actually better for the environment to have an artificial tree provided that it was kept for at least 10 years. I then started reminiscing about having grown up with an artificial tree and how much fun it was to pull out the box from under my parent’s bed — and to take out each color coded, prickly sharp, dark green branch. We would build the tree from the bottom up and then fluff it out into tree-like splendor and glory. (A skill that helped me greatly during my brief stint as a visual merchandiser at JCPenney.)

Later on when I moved out from my parent’s home, for my first Christmas in my first apartment I bought the tallest, fattest, live cut tree that would fit through the front door. It is a memory that I cherish, each detail etched into my heart and senses.

I loved December in New York City when you could walk through corridors of freshly cut pines for sale.

I would linger in the pocket of sharp clean air, breathing deeply. As far back as when I was in elementary school, I remember making friends every year with the people selling the trees in my neighborhood, secretly wishing that I, too, lived in Vermont instead of the Bronx.

Buying a cut tree every year became my tradition. The fresh forest scent after a long subway ride was healing and soothing. Even after I moved upstate to Woodstock, I continued to buy cut trees each year — although the tallest, most beautiful Hemlock stood right outside my door. I began to decorate her too. Crystal globes that shoot prisms of light across the yard, ribbons and a wind chime I can no longer reach because she has grown taller in the 10 years I have lived here — adorned her.

Spruce tree in Christine's yard

My son got me thinking. I personally am not fond of the artificial trees even though there are some very beautiful and recycled ones I have seen recently. I like the way our aesthetics are changing as a society. Instead, I’m going to try a new project this year of making a Winter Solstice tree from downed branches. It involves my favorite things: a walk in the woods, foraging, and crafting. I first learned about it from this website that gives a great step-by-step tutorial.

This could be a fun activity to do with close friends and family. A day together outdoors and then and evening creating. Leave a gift for the forest, a piece of fruit, a crystal or a small handful of seeds — as a token of gratitude. If you are in a city, make it a fun day of Christmas tree stand hopping and ask for the trimmings from the trees they sell. Give the guys a tip or carry Christmas chocolates or crystals to give them in exchange.

I will share my project progress on Instagram #gardensolsticetree2018 where you can share your holiday projects as well. I’d love to see them! Like my conversation with my son, may you connect to expansive, thought-provoking conversation — and may we all be willing to see new ways to connect to tradition and create new ones.

*And you’re going to need some refueling after a busy, creative day like this. Check out my recipe for amazing chocolate chip cookies and walnut milk.

Chef Christine Moss, The Garden Cafe Woodstock


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