Why We Keep It Real at Christmas

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Remember the last time your nose made you time travel? When you caught a whiff of a scent and were transported instantly to a moment from your past? This happens to me every time I somehow detect the fragrance of the Drakkar Noir cologne of my grade school crush, or the baby shampoo I used on my kids when they were infants. I’m taken right back to those times of my life and the emotions that went with them. Smells can evoke memories and trigger emotions, which is why they pack such a powerful punch. It’s also why we keep it real at Christmas when shopping for a tree—because the scent of pine is at the core of Christmas nostalgia and our kids’ future heartwarming flashbacks.

I grew up in Arizona and spent many a Christmas in New Mexico, where towering Saguaro cacti strewn with twinkling lights were topped with festive sombreros as the decor dujour during the holidays. This was quite a departure from traditional pine Christmas trees, which didn’t grow in the desert. When I moved to Portland, Oregon (home of the license plate with the Douglas Fir tree on it) with my own family as an adult, I was pumped to start a new tradition with my kids—driving through the countryside to a local tree farm to cut down our own real Christmas tree.

The experience of this family outing was nothing short of magical. We filled up our thermoses with hot cocoa and bundled up in warm hats, thick coats and rubber boots before venturing out on the scenic drive. Once we arrived at the tree farm, the crisp, cold air coupled with the silence of remote nature, made us feel like it was just our little family plunked down in a private forest. In the same fashion as Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I let our young daughter roam, giggling among the pines to find the tree that spoke to her heart. Hopeful pine after pining pine met her gaze until she unequivocally declared, “I pick this one!” pointing proudly and standing a bit taller next to her newfound prize. The tree stood out for reasons only she knew, and that’s what made it all the more glorious. Although the seemingly endless rows of trees may have looked identical to the naked eye, the one she chose was by far the most special. Perhaps it really was a ‘whispering pine,’ as the famous song suggests, that caught her attention at the right moment.

My daughter helped my husband use the saw to cut the tree down, then chewed on a candy cane and watched delightedly as her Christmas tree “danced” while the farmers did the shaking and baling in preparation for the trip home. She said it was dancing because it was so excited to come home with us, of course, immediately personifying the tree and making it a living member of our family. “Are you okay up there, tree?” she rolled down the window and yelled up to the tree, which was teetering on the roof of our small car during the drive home.

The fun continued with the tree decorating. I once read that ornaments are memories on branches. This poignant statement rings true for our family because our entire ornament collection has been gifted to us by loved ones who send our kids a new ornament every year. When we take out the boxes of these delicate treasures dangling on string, we reminisce about the person who sent them and about what each ornament represents. Hanging ornaments on a real tree gives my kids the ability to branch out in their minds to connections with family while the tree’s fragrance plants the seeds of memories into their cute little noses. Every whiff of pine becomes an olfactory map back to their childhood.

It’s truly amazing that a small piece of the earth can create such a world of change in a home. The origins of the Christmas tree sprouted from the belief that evergreens symbolized life, even through the winter months, and there’s no greater way to add life to your home during the holidays than by decorating and appreciating the magnificence of a real tree.

San Diego editor of Red Tricycle, Beth is also the writer and founder of Petite Planet, a blog which focuses on eco-friendly living for families. She's an ocean-loving California girl who swims against the tide.

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