Generally speaking, Christmas trees arrive in one of two ways: 1. You pack a saw and rope and drive to a Cut Your Own Tree Farm, which makes you feel like a beefy, whiskey-swilling, red-bearded lumberjack army-crawling through dirt and pine needles and probably fire ants until you ask a 19-year-old to help you tie it to the top of your Honda Odyssey; or 2. You go to the attic and retrieve the Giant Box of Fake Christmas Tree, which you purchased some years ago from, hypothetically speaking, a Kmart in east-central Indiana.
My family went with Option B. As I was fortunate enough to have both a Christmas-loving family and unusually tall ceilings, our fake tree was a goliath, a monstrous army-grade artificial Douglas fir Fraser pine (okay, I have no idea what it really was, I slept through college horticulture) that endured for nearly a decade. It was rich, plush and lifelike, even if it smelled less like evocative forest pine and more like the inside of a Kmart in east-central Indiana.
Mostly, it came in a box. It came in a huge box. It came in a box large enough to, if needed, store the car. And every year, when it emerged from the attic on the day after Thanksgiving, the routine was the same: Dad put up the tree, Mom sorted ornaments and my brother and I immediately became box-pirate-ship captains, or X-wing pilots, or pro wrestlers (we had weird games).
If you have ever been a kid, you know that boxes are the best toys, just above Bubble Wrap, packing peanuts, chunks of broken pavement and the Styrofoam used to pack real toys (for the purposes of karate, obviously). This year marks my 41st of wondering why we all flee Thanksgiving dinner to camp underneath neon signs for discount off-brand tablets when we could really just present our kids with office supplies and be done with it.
Naturally, this happens in my house regularly. One Christmas, my then-8-year-old experienced an impressive face-on-the-floor meltdown upon learning that I had chucked a large shipping box he had apparently converted into a lunar lander (I had also jettisoned the packing material that came with it, which he used presumably as fuel). I have never seen anyone get so worked up about cardboard. Guilt-ridden, I drove that night to the UPS Store — actually the back of the UPS store — to see if they had any extra peanuts, old boxes, maybe packing material that didn’t meet the high UPS quality standards. (Turns out they don’t sell that, no matter how uncomfortably long you stand there asking.)
So this year, we’re adopting a simple Christmas plan: Cross off every item on our sons’ lists and replace all of them with “box.” “Star Wars Legos?” Nope! That now says “box that the blender came in.” “iPhone 7?” Please. “Box that housed the bulk paper towels.” “Skateboard?” Delete. I saw some 25-year-old Houghton Mifflin textbook boxes in my Dad’s garage this summer, and that means a sweet new fort. Christmas will be super economical this year, assuming the people at the Kmart loading dock cooperate with me.
(Epilogue: Last November, on the day after Thanksgiving, we drove to a farm and cut down our own tree, and saw what we had been missing. The kids felt like wee pioneers, and the experience was closer to how I imagined Christmas in the years before flash sales and Black Friday mobs. Our real tree was tall, authentic and smelled like a tree. There was plenty of room under it for all the bubble wrap that Santa could have brought. Frankly, the tree would have been perfect, if only it had come in a box.)
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