Saturday, December 01, 2007

Little Living Tree in Richmond

Advent Calendar, December 1: Christmas Tree

When I was a child, my parents would not think of using an artificial Christmas tree. The smell of fresh evergreen always uplifted the spirits and helped us believe that Christmas time had finally arrived, at least indoors. Outside our door, there were no snowy sparkles or delicate icy sculptures, only the oily, stinging, and unconvincing December rain of Richmond, California--home to a huge Standard Oil refinery complex, among many other Bay Area industries.

Having a Christmas tree was important to my mother, in particular, because her grandparents were not in the habit of putting one up on their rural Minnesota farm until she was nearly grown. All that waiting must have stuck with her, for she wanted to make extra certain that my sister and I did not miss out on the joy of celebrating the holiday with a beautiful, glittery tree.

For a few years, my family used a living tree, more to reduce overall cost than anything. It came planted in a large redwood tub, and though small, it tried very hard, and willingly gave center stage to all the ornaments it could possibly hold. But, it spent the rest of the year outside on the back patio, looking lonely and forgotten, simply biding its time until December rolled around again.

When the living tree became depressed from too much waiting around--we could tell by its dingy and brown-tinged edges--we planted it in the yard and went back to buying a cut tree each Christmas. Though larger and flashier, these doomed visitors were not any better at their job than that trusty little living tree, perhaps because they were more impersonal, not to mention, well... expired. Once their grand entrance wore off, they never remained long, hardly enough time to make an acquaintance.

That little evergreen from my childhood, long set free from the constraints of its redwood tub, is probably still spreading its limbs and sheltering birds from the stinging December rain, oily as ever. Each year, when the fading autumn light gives way to the winter solstice, a misty, sensory memory sends a shudder through its boughs and needles. I like to imagine our old friend straining toward the dim winter daylight, searching for the familiar weight of ornaments from times past, and feeling for the reverberation of childish laughter, which once rang like Christmas bells through the house.


  1. I've known many people who had live trees but they were planted each spring. How wonderful that you were able to use the same tree several times.

  2. We tried to find a living tree for our house a few years back. We went to all sorts of nurseries and tree farms to no avail. When we asked if anyone knew where we could get one we were looked at like we were nuts. I've heard about living trees used at Christmas but never actually seen one. I guess it's just not done here in the Detroit area.

    Great post!