My father led me into the hills one Sunday in December more than 35 years ago.  I carried the saw; he carried the axe.

We trudged through the snow, hunting the wild Christmas tree.  He checked each tree for fullness and height, trying to picture it standing in our living room beside the couch.  I checked the bottom, worried that the stacks of Christmas presents I imagined might not fit underneath.

When we made our selection, my father cut.  I shouted “timber” as the tree fell over, then ran around its fallen corpse singing “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” instead of an inspirational chorus of  “Oh Christmas Tree.”  My father told me to shut up.

After dragging the tree to our car and tying it to the roof rack, I noticed for the first time my sticky hands.   My father said it was just  tree sap.  I looked at my hands in horror; I glanced at the stump of the tree’s trunk where a bead of amber glistened in the sunlight: It was tree blood!

When we got home I went to my room, unwilling to touch that tree again, and –   much to my father’s dismay – I refused to decorate it.  I stayed clear of our tree all during the holidays, only creeping up on it Christmas morning only to snatch my presents away.

I hadn’t, for some reason, seen a Christmas tree as a living thing until I had, with my father’s help, managed to cut one down.

Ever since that fatal Christmas I vowed never to kill another tree for mere decoration.  I have cut dead standing trees for firewood and gone to the lumber yard to purchase boards.  I have rubbed lemon Pledge on my dining room table and sliced vegetables on a cutting board.  But never, never, never will I ever again cut a living tree off the face of this planet for a month of tinsel and lights.

By New Year’s Day, Christmas trees have exhausted their usefulness.  The needles come loose at the slightest touch; they turn brown and drop to the floor in a futile attempt at fertilizing the carpet.  Trees are like that: They never stop trying to do their ecological best to help the planet.

My father dragged the tree out the back door, wrapped in a shroud – or so it seemed – and all the joy it had once embodied for him was somehow drained from it.  Drained from us.  I don’t mean to sound like Scrooge, trashing a tradition simply for the sake of  complaining, but wouldn’t giving one little gift to the earth be a nice thing to do for Christmas?  One little gift from the people who abuse her the most?

And I don’t mean planting a tree to make up for the one you’re taking, though by all means, plant one if you haven’t thought of that.  No, I mean instead of planting one, leave one grow.  No house is better for having a dying tree standing in it.  This is a tradition we, as a nation, can do without.

My father tried half-heartedly to revive the tradition of Christmas trees in our house, but the damage was done.  There was no way to bring it back to life.  Then, one year, he came home with a large cardboard box.  Inside was our first artificial tree.  Granted, it was an ugly thing, so unlike a real tree that I wondered if the people who manufactured it in China had no trees of their own to use as models.

We kept that tree, though, and every year when we pulled it out of the attic, I remembered our expedition to the woods, a place that has become sacred for me, where those beautiful, living, sentient beings called trees are celebrating every day the rebirth of our planet.

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